When they first met last year, the two men had a cordial, pleasant exchange. They were all smiles. But neither was the leader of his country at the time.
Monday, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold their first meeting since taking power. Their meeting may well have the same tenor, with expressions of friendship and support for the bonds between the United States and Israel. But behind closed doors, the two men will be discussing sensitive issues, including some on which the United States and Israel disagree. Among them: endorsement of a two-state solution. Obama supports the idea of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. Netanyahu has not endorsed the idea, arguing that Israel needs security guarantees and a clear Palestinian partner for peace talks. Watch what the two leaders may talk about » Still, some Palestinian leaders have expressed hope that Netanyahu may soon choose to accept the principle of a two-state solution. “If, in fact, Mr. Netanyahu were to make an unequivocal statement about acceptance of this as a solution concept, then he should immediately be asked to begin, immediately to implement Israel’s other obligations under the road map,” said Salam Fayyad, Palestinian prime minister. Netanyahu and Obama also differ over Iran. The Israeli leader wants a time limit for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, with the threat of military action if no resolution is reached. Obama is unlikely to provide a timetable.
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Both Israel and the United States believe Iran is seeking nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy program; Tehran denies the accusation. Israeli leaders point to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls for the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and argue that urgent action is needed. Netanyahu also wants to allow natural growth in Jewish settlements in the West Bank — for example, allowing children who grow up in a settlement to build a home alongside that of their parents. Obama wants an immediate freeze on settlement expansion. The U.S. president also wants outposts dismantled. On the eve of Netanyahu’s visit, Israel began construction at a West Bank outpost called Maskiyot, where some families evacuated from Gaza are being resettled, and where several have been living in temporary housing. A government spokesman said the construction’s start date and the timing of Netanyahu’s trip are a coincidence. Despite their differences, Obama and Netanyahu agree on numerous key issues, such as U.S. military and financial support for Israel. Obama highlighted his stance during his presidential campaign. Obama also supports funding for Palestinian entities not controlled by Hamas, which controls Gaza and which the United States labels a terrorist organization. Before making his trip to Washington, Netanyahu met with leaders of Jordan and Egypt, viewed as potential partners in the effort to bring peace to the region. Monday’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu is expected to be largely a chance for the two sides to discuss their positions rather than iron out differences. And aides on both sides stress that each leader views the other as a friend in peace efforts.
Outside of geopolitics, Obama and Netanyahu have a connection of their own. Netanyahu spent his teenage years in the United States and was educated in Boston at MIT. He also studied political science at Harvard — where Obama attended law school.