It took nearly a full week, but President Barack Obama on Monday called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate the Israeli leader on his election win last Tuesday.
This is the readout of the phone call from the White House:
President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate him on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats in Israel’s recent election. The President indicated that the United States looks forward to working with the next government. He also reiterated his commitment to the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and pledged to work closely with Israel on our shared agenda for peace and security in the Middle East.
Still, despite his tardiness, Obama in fact was the only world leader to have congratulated Netanyahu thus far, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz.
The frosty relations between Obama and Netanyahu have been widely reported, and there was even evidence President Obama tried to influence Israelis to vote against Netanyahu. This came in the form of an apparent leak reported by the well-connected Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg just one week before the elections. Goldberg wrote that Obama had told “several people” privately that Netanyahu’s policies were self-defeating and causing Israel to be isolated. Goldberg claimed that Obama said repeatedly to his confidents that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”
The poor relations characterization was emphasized further on Monday by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk who told Israel’s Army Radio that the two leaders have “bad chemistry.”
The Jerusalem Post provided quotes from the interview, in which the former ambassador encouraged both leaders to try to mend their relations:
With regard to Obama’s state of mind, Indyk said that he believes, “President Obama is feeling quite frustrated because he rightly feels that he has done the right thing by Israel, but Israel is not responsive.”
Indyk suggested that once Netanyahu has formed his new government, he should “reach out to President Obama and try to turn a new page.” He added that the “relations between the United States and Israel are more important than the differences between the two leaders.” Referring to these tensions, which have been widely reported, Indyk said that the two heads of state “need to overcome them.”
At a press briefing after the phone call, White House Spokesman Jay Carney characterized the call as “warm” and said: “This country’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable and has been reflected in this administration’s commitment to Israel’s security.”
“It is also the case that in his first term, there is no leader with whom this president has had more conversations than Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Carney added.