US president Barack Obama met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on Monday, for talks on a wide array of topics, highlighting recent efforts to mend ties between the two leaders, strained most notably by the completion of the Iranian nuclear deal.
In the meeting, Netanyahu assured Obama that he remained committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu said he backed a vision of "two states for two peoples," but reiterated that “any Palestinian state must be demilitarised completely and recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people”.
Netanyahu was meeting Obama for the first time since October 2014. During the meeting, Obama and Netanyahu showed no signs of tension, and looked collected and business-like as they held their first face-to-face talks in 13 months.
The meeting was an opportunity to patch up relations which would possibly help smooth the way for the new 10-year US military aid package, which Obama told Netanyahu he wanted to get a "head start" on negotiating.
The long awaited meeting is expected to revolve around a possible 10-year defence deal, with reports that Israel will seek an increase in the $3 billion US annual military aid it receives, to roughly 5 billion according to US congressional sources. In addition to the US spending on the Israeli Iron Dome Missile Defence System.
A senior Israeli official confirmed the new figure and confirmed a US delegation would visit Israel next month to discuss details of an aid package.
The new 10-year defence was not finalised during the Obama-Netanyahu summit and would only take effect after the current accord expires in 2017.
Palestinian matter towering over talks
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict largely penetrated the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, with the recent wave of violence which has killed over 70 Palestinians and 10 Israelis as talk circulates about a possible third intifada (Palestinian uprising).
The first two uprisings in Palestine were in 1987 and 2000, with the latter ignited by the aggravated Palestinian masses, from a visit by the former Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount, violating the status quo.
Obama has concluded that a peace deal is beyond reach during the final 14 months of his presidency, although reiterating the conflict is in dire need for a peace deal that would save lives and stop the bloodshed. US voters will elect a new president in November 2016.
Obama said he wanted to hear Netanyahu's ideas for lowering tensions in the region and "how we can make sure that legitimate Palestinian aspirations are met." Obama later condemned the “latest wave of violence and backed Israel's right to defend itself”.
"The security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities, and that has expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds," Obama said.
"I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace," Netanyahu told reporters allowed in at the start of talks with Obama.
Netanyahu’s speech to American Enterprise Institute
After the meeting with the US president, Natenyahu gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
"We are in agreement that we want to keep Iran's feet to the fire." said Netanyahu to the conservative think tank, addressing the famous disagreement Israel had with the US regarding the finalised Iranian nuclear deal.
The deal between Iran and six world powers, including Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States is aimed at monitoring Iran's most sensitive nuclear work for over 12 years, in exchange for immediate relief for the country from economic sanctions, which have long crippled its economy.
Netanyahu described the agreement as a "historic mistake," which would open the way for Iran to produce nuclear weapons. Netanyahu said the deal will bring Tehran an excessive surplus in financial abilities after sanctions relief, which could help fund regional conflicts, while not doing enough to curb the Iranian nuclear program.
Netanyahu also said Iran can potentially use the Syrian territory for direct aggression against Israel or for sending game-changing weapons to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
"The defense of Israel is what concerns me in Syria first and foremost, and on that we'll continue to act forcefully," he said.