U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on together on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday in what is likely the last official meeting between the two leaders before Obama leaves office early next year.
“I don’t think people at large understand the breadth and depth of the cooperation, but I know and I want to thank you on behalf of all of the people of Israel,” Netanyahu told Obama at the beginning of their meeting at New York’s Palace Hotel, alluding to the historic 10-year $38 billion military aid package that was signed last week.
“Israel has no bigger friend than America, and America has no bigger friend than Israel,” Netanyahu reiterated during the meeting.
“It is a very difficult and dangerous time in the Middle East, and we want to make sure that Israel has the full capabilities it needs in order to keep the Israeli people safe,” he said.
Obama also began his remarks by touting the special bond between the two countries.
“It is based on common values, family ties, a recognition that the Jewish state of Israel is one of our most important allies,” he said. “It is important for America’s national security to ensure we have a safe and secure Israel, one that can defend itself.”
While the two leaders, who have had a very tumultuous relationship over the past several years, appeared to have put past disputes, such as the Iran nuclear deal, behind them for their likely final meeting. Obama intended to use their meeting as an opportunity to push Netanyahu on peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu and Obama Meet at the UN
“We do have concerns about settlement activity as well, and we hope that we can continue to be an effective partner with Israel on finding a path to peace,” Obama said in remarks prior to the meeting.
During his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama reiterated the same message, saying that the Palestinians need to “reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel” while the Israelis “cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”
However, the White House has played down rumors that Obama may use his final months in office to push for a new Middle East peace initiative.
“I think he’d want to make a determination about how can he be most constructive in supporting a vision that he cares about, which is an Israel that has security and peace with the Palestinian people and a Palestine that is sovereign and independent,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on Tuesday.