Politics

Obama, Netanyahu Take Icy Relationship to Peres Funeral

3 times the 'frenemies' publicly – and privately – clashed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber on March 3, 2015, as House Speaker John A. Boehner, left, and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin G. Hatch, look on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When President Barack Obama lands in Israel for the funeral of Shimon Peres, that country’s former leader, he will be face-to-face one last — and unexpected — time as president with a leader some have called his best “frenemy.”

That would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Obama has had perhaps the iciest relationship. Even as Obama and Netanyahu pay tribute to Peres, one of Israel’s founding fathers, many will be keeping a close eye on their interactions — or lack thereof.

Obama has provided more military weaponry to the Jewish state, a close U.S. ally, than any of his predecessors. But he's had a series of disagreements with the conservative Israeli leader that have gone public and that the White House has done little at times to mask.

Here are three memorable times he and Netanyahu had public spats:

‘The Address’

March 3, 2015, was a chilly winter day in Washington. But relations between the U.S. and Israeli leaders were well below freezing.

Netanhyahu entered the House chamber to address a joint meeting of Congress late that morning, with Speaker John A. Boehner seated at the dais. Typically, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is president of the Senate, would be sitting alongside him. Instead, there sat Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the chamber’s president pro tempore.

The moment, on its face, seemed tailored for Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations chairman who often touts his relationships with world leaders. But he skipped the address as a sign of the Obama administration’s frustration with Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation from Boehner to address the Iran nuclear deal. And, for his GOP hosts, Netanyahu did not disappoint, warning that the pact could bring war between his country and Iran.

Tellingly, Netanyahu did not meet with Obama or Biden before he left Washington, which almost never happens with such close allies.

‘The Ambush’

Obama and Netanyahu had their first meeting as leaders in May 2009, and it didn’t go well. The Jerusalem Post, in fact, dubbed it “The Ambush.”

When the two leaders faced the media together, Obama called for a freeze on new settlements in the West Bank. During their private session, Obama further peeved his Israeli counterpart by demanding he stop all construction in East Jerusalem.

One senior Israeli official who was in the room for that private meeting told the newspaper that “Netanyahu felt ambushed.”

The (Almost) Final Meeting

The duo met earlier this month in New York on the sidelines of Obama’s final United Nations General Assembly session. It was slated to be the pair’s last official meeting as world leaders.

In many ways, it was a fitting end to their chilly and combative relationship.

As the two sat for the obligatory pool spray, Netanyahu gave Obama an attaboy for "what I hear is a terrific golf game." And he told the president he will “always be a welcome guest in Israel," inviting him to hit the links near his home in Israel. "We'll set up a tee time," Obama replied. Trouble is: The Israeli prime minister doesn’t play golf, meaning he was essentially inviting Obama to spend four or five hours out of his sight.

The private session didn't go so well, either.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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