Chanukah came early for Bibi Netanyahu this year when Barack Obama gave him a very big gift he's always craved and the promise of another.
Just before Bibi arrived for his first White House meeting since he launched his bungled attempt to block the Iran nuclear agreement, senior administration officials told reporters that the President was throwing in the towel on efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians for the remaining 14 months of Obama's term.
Obama had made Mideast peace a priority on his second day in the Oval Office, which set him on a collision course with the conservative prime minister, who has shown little interest and a lot of excuses to stay away from the negotiating table.
In an Oval Office photo op before Monday's private meeting, Netanyahu went through the motions of reiterating his commitment to a two-state solution that he only embraced under considerable American pressure in 2009. He offered no evidence of his sincerity, which much of the world doubts, but he didn't need to. He won the battle; it was now a moot issue, at least until there is a new president.
The White House response to Bibi's talk about wanting peace was "show me." Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Netanyahu's words were "encouraging" but the President is looking for "action."
Bibi had to go home without some other prizes he was hoping for, however. He wanted to wrap up a new 10-year strategic agreement. He is asking for a $50 billion aid package, including the best the Pentagon has. The current level is $3.1 billlion annually and Obama has in mind something closer to $4 billion, not counting extras like the Iron Dome, Arrow and David's Sling anti-missile programs.
The administration may be holding off on funding levels and other details to see what Netanyahu does after his visit to implement some of the confidence building measures he promised to help calm the violence. And whether there will be another burst of settlement construction, which the administration considers "counterproductive" and a message to Palestinians that they can forget about statehood.
The PM also got turned down flat on two other requests.
• He wanted to be able to take Jonathan Pollard home with him on Air Force Aleph. Obama has a policy of not intervening in the judicial process, senior White House aides explained, and he won't override the terms of the convicted spy's upcoming parole, which requires him to remain in the United States, under supervision, for five years, according to the Washington Post. Pollard is expected to be released next week.
• The administration also rejected Bibi's request for the United States to recognize Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights. Haaretz quoted White House officials saying there has been no change in longstanding U.S. opposition to the move dating back to 1981, which Israel extended Israeli law and authority over the area captured in 1967. Officials said that what asked for is not only unjustified but potentially harmful to U.S.-backed Syrian opposition forces.
But the PM won't be returning home empty handed. He will have his hall pass to get out of the peace talks and a promise of billions in new aid, which he will no doubt tout as a confession that Obama's Iran deal was indeed the big threat to Israel that Netanyahu and the Republicans said it was. Not a bad haul for poking your fingers in the eye of the American president.
For more about the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, read my Washington Watch column.