Tension between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama is nothing new, but it seems to have escalated to an even higher level. Here are five current sources of bitterness in the leaders’ relationship.
Iran: Much of the debate surrounding Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat centered on “protocol,” with the White House opposing the speech on the grounds that House Speaker John Boehner did not consult Obama about inviting Netanyahu. But the broader disagreement is about the emerging deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers, a group that includes the U.S., ahead of a March 31 deadline for a “political framework agreement” in the nuclear negotiations.
“This deal,” Netanyahu told Congress, “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
Given Iran’s repeated threats to annihilate Israel and sponsorship of anti-Jewish terrorism around the world, Netanyahu considers the outcome of the nuclear negotiations a matter of survival for the Jewish state. But the Islamic Republic doesn’t limit its genocidal rhetoric to Israel. On Saturday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei affirmed a Tehran crowd’s chants of “death to America.”
“Of course yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure,” Khamenei said, referring to economic sanctions against Iran.
The two-state solution: A day before the March 17 Israeli election, Netanyahu said a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch. But on March 19, the prime minister told NBC News that he supports “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”
“I haven’t changed my policy,” Netanyahu said. “I never retracted my speech at Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.”
Obama, however, wasn’t sold.
“We take [Netanyahu] at his word when he said that [a Palestinian state] wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” Obama told The Huffington Post in an interview published Saturday.
The UN: Reports citing anonymous U.S. sources have indicated that the Obama administration might break from longstanding American policy of defending Israel against United Nations resolutions that single out the Jewish state for criticism or promote the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state. The U.S. has veto power in the UN Security Council.
Israeli Arabs: On election day, Netanyahu – whose Likud Party had been trailing the Zionist Union party in the polls before Likud’s eventual decisive victory – warned, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.”
After White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. “is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Obama followed suit by issuing his own criticism of Netanyahu’s election-day remarks on Arab voters.
Alleged U.S. funding of anti-Netanyahu campaign efforts: One specter that hung over the Israeli election was alleged State Department funding of efforts to unseat Netanyahu – and although the election has passed and Netanyahu will remain in power, an ongoing U.S. Senate probe means the issue is not going away.