Israel’s media on Wednesday hailed a new chapter of warm ties with the White House in the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu’s summit with Barack Obama, although some warned it could be short lived.


“A warm shoulder,” was the banner headline in the mass selling Yediot Aharonot daily over a picture of the Israeli prime minister and the US president strolling on the White House lawns.

Rival daily Maariv led with “Building confidence,” while the Jerusalem Post noted that the difference in tone from past meetings was “striking.”

Marked improvement for Netanyahu

In Tuesday’s meeting, Netanyahu was accorded all the trappings of a visiting head of state and the two leaders sought to project a friendly atmosphere, a marked contrast to the icy tone of their previous talks.

Relations between the allies plummeted to their lowest point in decades earlier this year following a high-profile spat over Israeli settlement building in occupied east Jerusalem.

This time Netanyahu won praise for his recent easing of the embargo on the Gaza Strip and reaffirmation of what Obama declared were the “unbreakable” ties between Israel and the United States.

But some cautioned that this was only achieved because the two leaders avoided the tough issues that had dogged their previous encounters.

Settlements left out

“The Obama-Netanyahu summit: personal letters, bouquets of flowers and not a word about settlements,” was the headline in the Haaretz daily.

“The cautious observer must ask what was said about the difficult issues that remain unresolved,” wrote the pro-government Israel HaYom, warning that the “friendly attitude radiated by the Americans could dissolve.”

Ahead of the talks, there was intense interest in how Netanyahu would handle any debate on the issue of a partial freeze on settlement building which is due to expire at the end of September.

But the issue was hardly even mentioned – in public, at least.

Obama wants direct talks before September

The Palestinians have said they will only progress to direct talks if Israel undertakes to completely halt settlement construction on all occupied territory, including east Jerusalem – meaning Israel would first have to extend, and even expand terms of the freeze.

Obama finessed the issue by saying he hoped a shift to direct talks would happen before September 26, thereby rendering that deadline irrelevant.

“My hope is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success,” he said.

Commentators warned the new convivial atmosphere was unlikely to last if Obama chose to vigorously push Israel toward a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“It would be a crude mistake to assume that a new chapter was launched in the Oval Office yesterday,” Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York wrote in Maariv.

“After the false sweetness dissolves, Netanyahu will be asked about a peace plan and be asked to present maps. And then we will again talk of a crisis in relations and the Obama plan,” he wrote.