Expectations surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth White House meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, are running high. The previous conversations between the prime minister and President Barack Obama, though privately friendly and constructive, generated press speculations of tensions in the United States — Israel relationship. The chief source of friction, it was reported, centered on the peace process and the best way to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Since that time, discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, though conducted indirectly through the good offices of U.S. Special Envoy Senator George Mitchell, have begun, and major efforts undertaken to demonstrate the unbreakable security bonds between Israel and the United States. The Obama administration, for example, allocated $205 million to the Iron Dome program that is vital to protecting Israel from Hamas and Hezbollah rockets, as well as far-reaching support for other systems — Arrow III, Arrow II and David’s Sling — designed to intercept longer range missiles from Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor General Jim Jones delivered widely publicized speeches reiterating the administration’s dedication to Israel’s well-being. And President Obama, in a letter to Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, pledged, “our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us.”
Netanyahu’s visit will certainly emphasize the strength of the U.S.-Israel security relationship as well as both countries’ commitment to advancing toward direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The prime minister has repeatedly stated his readiness to enter into direct talks with the Palestinian Authority immediately and to swiftly reach agreements on all core issues that will form the foundation of a lasting peace.
To be sure, the president and prime minister’s agenda will comprise other important issues. Views will be exchanged on mutually crucial matters such as the impact of the newly instituted sanctions on Iran and the possibilities of detaching Syria from Tehran’s orbit. The two leaders will certainly review Israel’s recent adjustment of its policies toward Gaza, easing the restrictions on imports to the civilian population while maintaining the naval blockade necessary to deny massive arm shipments to Hamas. A tour d’horizon of Middle East politics — the internal stability of various regimes, the situation in Iraq, the fight on terror — should also be expected.
But, the strategic and political issues and the quest for peace will not be the exclusive focus of the Obama-Netanyahu discussions. Israel is today America’s twentieth largest customer in the world — bigger than Saudi Arabia, Argentina, and Russia — and a major partner in scientific research and development. The two leaders may explore ways to expand this cooperation, especially in the fields of sustainable agriculture and alternative energy.
The U.S.-Israel relationship is not, however, confined to a rapport between two individuals or even the governments they head. Rather, it is an alliance between two peoples with deep spiritual and democratic roots.
This kinship transcends occasional policy differences and partisan politics. Indeed, the bipartisan nature of American support for Israel was recently reaffirmed in Congressional letters upholding Israel’s right to self-defense and recognizing its commitment to peace. These statements received overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle and reflect unwavering backing for Israel among the American public.
The visit of an Israeli prime minister to Washington is always a source of popular interest. When Benjamin Netanyahu enters the White House on Tuesday, no doubt a great many cameras will follow him and commentators will parse his and President Obama’s every word. Observers can be assured, however, that the interaction, whether in public or behind the scenes, will be characterized by cooperation, candid communication and respect. Those are the cornerstones of any alliance and especially one as multi-faceted and historic as that between the United States and Israel.
Michael Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
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