TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that despite disagreements he enjoyed his meetings with President Barack Obama over the past seven years, but he hopes the commander-in-chief will not advance a last-ditch Palestinian state initiative at the United Nations before leaving office on January 20.
“Contrary to what people think, I always enjoyed each of the — I’m told — 17 meetings,” Netanyahu told Channel 2 news, following what is likely to be his last face-to-face meeting with Obama in New York on Wednesday.
“In some of them we disagreed. On much we agreed. And I especially enjoyed this meeting because it came after we signed” the $38 billion U.S. aid package deal, which is “an important moment for the State of Israel and for U.S.-Israel relations,” he said.
Netanyahu confirmed that the notion that Obama would use his last months in office to push a diplomatic initiative – such as not employing the U.S. veto on a UN resolution – did not come up at the meeting.
“Did we speak about it? The answer is no. Do I hope that he doesn’t do it? The answer is yes,” he said.
In his address to the General Assembly on Thursday, Netanyahu quoted Obama’s 2011 speech at the same forum in which the president insisted that a resolution to the conflict will only come through direct negotiations between the parties and not through the UN.
“I can only hope that this consistent policy by Obama will hold true to the end of his term,” Netanyahu told Channel 2, adding that the only time the U.S. president had used his veto in the Security Council was against an anti-Israel resolution dealing with settlements in 2011.
Netanyahu reiterated his view that Israel was not interested in binational state.
“I want an agreement whereby the Palestinians will recognize our state, just as we will recognize theirs. Not a state that they will flood with refugees, but rather the national home of the Jewish people. Their refusal to recognize [Israel] as the national home of the Jewish people, in any borders, remains the heart of the conflict.”
He added that Palestinian leaders were “ensnared in an internal trap they’ve pushed themselves into.”
“They’ve created so much propaganda against the State of Israel that it’s difficult for them to make the [necessary] change,” he said.
Senior Obama administration officials said that at the meeting the president raised “profound U.S. concerns about the corrosive effects of settlement activity.” However, a senior Israeli official from Netanyahu’s delegation said the issue was barely touched upon.
The premier also met with Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.
“We had, I thought, an excellent meeting with President Obama,” Netanyahu told Kerry.
Kerry expressed his support for safeguarding both the two-state solution and Israel’s security.
“There are things we believe we could achieve in the next months, and there are serious concerns that we all have about the security of the region, the need for stability, the need to protect the two-state solution,” Kerry said.
“And our hope is obviously that we can find a way to utilize the friendship of our countries to advance what we believe is not only of the highest priority for Israel to provide for its long-term security, but also to create a new relationship within the region that can be powerful in reinforcing that long-term security interest.”
Kerry also met Friday with three other representatives from the Middle East Quartet – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini – and expressed “grave concern” that “the acceleration of settlement construction and expansion in Area C and east Jerusalem, including the retroactive ‘legalization’ of existing units, and the continued high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures, are steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution.”
Regarding Gaza, the Quartet said the “dire humanitarian situation” there was untenable, but acknowledged the “illicit arms build-up and activity by militant Palestinian groups, including rockets fired toward Israel.”
In response to a surge of terror attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, the Quartet said both sides must “take all necessary steps to deescalate tensions by exercising restraint, preventing incitement, refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric, and protecting the lives and property of all civilians.”