DAILY MAIL 28th March 2010
By Matthew Kalman
Benjamin Netanyahu was forced yesterday to deny reports that a close aide had described President Barack Obama as Israel's 'greatest disaster'.
The frantic damage-limitation exercise comes after more than two weeks of tension over Israeli construction plans in Jerusalem.
Washington has demanded that Israel freeze all settlement building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.
'Comment was never made': Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied an aide called U.S. President Barack Obama 'Israel's biggest failure'
Netanyahu says he will continue to expand the new Israeli areas of East Jerusalem, already home to more than 180,000 people.
President Obama is backing the Palestinian demand that indirect talks designed to kick-start the moribund peace process cannot begin unless Israel agrees to a complete freeze.
The issue has sparked a major crisis in US-Israeli relations that wrecked the first visit to the region by US vice president Joe Biden earlier this month.
Last week, Netanyahu met Obama in the Oval Office, but in circumstances that Israeli commentators said recalled a visit by an unwanted 'dictator' rather than a close friend and ally.
There was no press conference, no photographed handshake and Netanyahu was forced to use an anonymous side entrance. Half-way through the meeting, the president left Netanyahu to go and dine with his family and did not invite the prime minister to join him.
Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest newspaper, said a trusted confidant of Netanyahu called Obama Israel’s 'greatest disaster' alongside a scathing description of his 'humiliating' treatment at the White House.
'President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton adapted a clear Palestinian point of view,' said the anonymous aide. 'This is a sick and insane matter; it is a catastrophic situation. We are facing a hostile administration like never before.'
'The prime minister emphatically rejects the anonymous quotes about President Obama that a newspaper attributed to one of his confidants, and he condemns them,' Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office on Sunday.
Snub: Obama is said to have excused himself from the meeting with Netanyahu to dine with his family, but did not invite the Israeli PM to join him
Speaking to the weekly cabinet session in Jerusalem yesterday, he described relations between Israel and the US as 'those of allies and friends'.
'I would like to make it clear: I find these remarks to be unacceptable. They are from nobody acting on my behalf,' he said.
David Axelrod, a key adviser to President Obama, also said on Sunday that the frosty White House reception was not a calculated insult.
'This was a working meeting among friends. And so there was no snub intended,' Axelrod told CNN. He said the two leaders were focused on practicalities, not protocol.
'This was not about formalities. This was not about a ceremonial meeting. This was a working meeting. We have a deep, abiding interest in Israel's security. And we believe the peace process is essential to that,' he said.
But many Israelis, who in polls give Obama an approval rating of less than 10 per cent, are not convinced.
'This government has made large concessions to launch negotiations, including the possible recognition of a Palestinian state and freezing construction. All these have been disregarded, and instead the bar kept being raised,' said National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau.