Obama Calls Bibi; What Does It Mean?

It was one of those routine, periodic phone conversations between government leaders, but this one will make the Israeli papers because the recipient of today’s presidential call was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Presumably the NSA knows what was said, but the White House isn’t saying, merely issuing a news release – called a “readout” – saying:

 “The two leaders discussed recent developments related to Iran, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and other regional issues.   The two leaders agreed to continue their close coordination on a range of security issues.”

That’s standard boilerplate language, and we’re none the wiser — unless one side or the other wants to leak more.  Like when Angela Merkel read the riot act to Obama when she learned NSA had been bugging her cell phone for 10 years let the world know she was PO’d.

Most of the time, however, the readouts are routine saccharine statements issued nearly every time the President speaks with a foreign leader, nearly always devoid of substance, as the conversations themselves frequently are. Often, as for Israeli and Palestinian leaders, they are pep talks and salve for tender egos needing to be reassured they haven’t been forgotten. But look for reporters to turn them into news stories like:

            President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu today held a private discussion of developments in Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and other regional issues, the White House said. It was part of their ongoing coordination on security and diplomatic developments in the region.

            Netanyahu reiterated his call for tougher sanctions and his insistence that Iran not be permitted any uranium enrichment;  he is concerned that the United States is facing pressure from its European allies to accept enrichment to 3.5 percent purity.  Netanyahu believes that given the state of Iranian technology, it would be only a matter of a few weeks before Iran could convert that to 90 percent, which is weapons grade.

            Netanyahu reassured Obama of his continued commitment to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.  He told the President that he is keeping his commitment to release the next group of Palestinian prisoners despite intense domestic pressure against the move.  The two leaders also discussed developments in the Syrian civil war.

How do I know that’s what Netanyahu said?  I don’t, but it is a fair assumption since he said most of that in the cabinet meeting yesterday and was reported to have told much the same thing to Secretary of State John Kerry when they met last week in Rome. Netanyahu, if anything, is not subtle and likes to hammer home his messages repeatedly.

Look for the call to Netanyahu to be followed up with one to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, followed by an equally uninformative readout that will make headlines in Palestinian media, telling how important Abbas is in the eyes of the American president. 

Every word in both White House readouts will be carefully parsed.

Like the time the Abbas readout mentioned a “just and lasting peace” while the one for Netanyahu mentioned “achieve peace,” sending at least one right wing Israeli commentator into a tizzy, noting “no mention of it either being ‘just’ or ‘lasting’ or basis of ‘two state solution.'”  He found the two press releases “significantly different” but no explanation as to what that meant.  Maybe nothing?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.