Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent the second day of his trip to Washington doling out affection for the United States, seeking to soothe sore feelings left over from the bruising fight over the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year.
But he gave little reason to believe that he would volunteer unilateral concrete steps toward a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue, as Obama administration officials had urged him to do to ease tensions even if the formal negotiating process remains dormant.
On Monday night and Tuesday, he made the rounds — accepting ovations and an award from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, speaking to the Jewish Federations of North America and taking questions at the liberal Center for American Progress.
At each stop, he doled out similar or identical anecdotes and points: The United States and Israel are great allies; Palestinians must recognize Israel and agree to Israeli security concerns before negotiations resume; Syria, “like Humpty Dumpty,” might be impossible to put back together again; and Israel has a thriving, technology-based economy with strengths in such areas as cybersecurity and water conservation.
He also hailed President Obama — whom his newly designated chief of protocol called an anti-Semite — for his devotion to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. And Netanyahu said the two had common interests in the Middle East region’s “battle between modernity and early medievalism.”
“I thought it was an extremely important dialogue as part of a process to make sure we healed the wounds in the Jewish community and progressive community that were broken wide open by the Iran question,” said Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
At the Jewish Federations conference Tuesday, the Israeli leader said he would convene a “roundtable” to address controversies over religious parties’ efforts to deny certain rights to Reform and Conservative Jews.
“As prime minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel — Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, all Jews,” he said to applause.
At the Center for American Progress, where a small group of protesters gathered in a light rain to denounce his appearance, Netanyahu argued that taking too many steps on the road to a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue might be bad bargaining strategy. He said that Israel did not want a repeat of Gaza, where Jewish settlers and Israeli troops were withdrawn and the strip became a launching pad for attacks on Israel. Gaza, he said, has “become this poison thumb, this poison dagger that sends rockets” into Israel.