President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit all the right notes in their public comments before their 35-minute meeting in New York last week during the United Nations General Assembly. Obama declared the bond between the two countries “unbreakable.” He thanked former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who recently suffered a stroke, “for his friendship and his leadership.” And of the just-signed Memorandum of Understanding and its $38 billion in U.S. military aid to the Jewish state over the coming decade: “We want to make sure that Israel has the full capabilities it needs in order to keep the Israeli people safe and secure.”
Netanyahu said the agreement “greatly enhances Israel’s security.” And he praised the “extensive security and intelligence cooperation” between the two countries. “I don’t think people at large understand the breadth and depth of this cooperation, but I know it,” he said.
It was a valedictory moment that was memorable for its blandness, coming after years of public rancor and sniping between the two leaders and their teams. In their private meeting, of course, Obama and Netanyahu were reportedly more candid about their differences. While we believe in the public’s right to know, we are relieved that they discussed their differences away from the cameras. And after the acrimony that surrounded the Iran nuclear deal, it was OK that the two leaders ended their forced relationship with lame jokes about golf.
In his address to the General Assembly, Netanyahu repeated his praise for American support. But his main point was that the world body — “the U.N., begun as a moral force, has become a moral farce,” was one of his best lines — was fated to lose its hostility “because back home, your governments are rapidly changing their attitudes toward Israel. And sooner or later, that’s going to change the way you vote on Israel at the U.N.”
That would certainly be a positive development. The marginalization of Israel was a product of Cold War politics and Arab enmity. Now even that enmity is cooling in the face of the region’s strategic threat from Iran. “Our common enemies are Iran and ISIS,” Netanyahu said. “Our common goals are security, prosperity and peace. I believe that in the years ahead we will work together to achieve these goals.”
The unanswered question that lingers is whether the Obama administration will make a last-ditch lame duck push for peace. As we’ve learned time and again, 11th-hour initiatives never work out, all the more so when the burden of peace is designed to fall disproportionately on Israel’s shoulders.
To the extent that a new era of cooperation between Israel and the United States has begun, we embrace it. And we welcome the sense of optimism that has been rekindled by that effort.