Barack and Bibi: Unhappy partners meet again

Story highlights

  • It's well known that Obama and Netanyahu don't normally get along, but their meeting could be one of their better ones
  • With the Iran deal behind them, a key source of friction is gone, Aaron David Miller says

Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. He is the author of "The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President." Follow him on Twitter @aarondmiller2. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu publicly crusaded against the American President's signature foreign policy achievement and is trying to distance himself from an aide who called President Obama's behavior anti-Semitic.

For his part, President Obama doesn't much like Netanyahu and disagrees with him on key policies.
And this week, the two will meet for another round of talks when Netanyahu visits the White House.
    Are we in for a titanic clash of egos?
    Aaron David Miller
    Probably not this time. Indeed, there's reason to think that this may be one of their better encounters.
    That's not because the personal and policy differences that have turned the U.S.-Israeli relationship into an on-again-off-again soap opera these past seven years have somehow gone away.
    It's just that both leaders have less reason to fight; the Iran deal is done; the Israelis have acquiesced however grudgingly and are likely to pick up a large package of important military and security hardware. While there's been a dangerous uptick in Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, the prospect of ending it through negotiations seems pretty unlikely. Indeed, the administration admitted as much the other day.
    And the President knows that a fight with Netanyahu during the 2016 campaign will only weaken the Democratic nominee and embolden Republicans. Obama confronts a Middle East mess, including new Russia moves into Syria and the very real prospect that terrorists brought down the Russian plane in Sinai, less than a year to try to clean some of it up and few allies to help him. The last thing he needs now is another headache with Israel.
    But don't kid yourself. Beneath the cordiality, smiles and handshakes, there's no love lost between these two. As they approach their meeting Monday, here's what these two leaders would likely say about one another if honesty, not diplomacy, ruled the day.

    Imagining Obama's thoughts

    Here he comes again. Like a bad penny, Bibi keeps turning up. This is my 10th meeting and I don't recall having enjoyed a single one. After every encounter, I tell Michelle it was like having a bad migraine headache or a root canal.
    It usually takes me a few days to recover. I know Israel is a close ally; but why can't the Israeli public see that they're electing a guy who really isn't interested in fixing the problems they face? And besides he's brash, arrogant and way too self-confident. I'm sure nobody would describe me that way. It's no wonder that after Bill Clinton's first meeting with Bibi way back in 1996, the President exploded to aides after the meeting. "Who's the f----ing superpower here?"
    Clinton was lucky; he got to deal with, Rabin, Peres and Barak. I'm stuck with this guy. Then again, Bill managed to reach two agreements with Bibi on the Palestinians issue, including one at a presidential summit. Could my problem with Netanyahu be partly my fault? No way. I know what's best for Israel. After all I 'm 100% convinced that the nuclear deal is great for the U.S . and my legacy.
    It's certainly good for Israel, too, in that it keeps Iran away from a nuke -- at least for a decade. And while I have to admit that Iran isn't exactly showing it's best side these days when it comes to human rights violations; backing the murderous Bashar Assad and imprisoning US citizens, over time they'll come around. And at any rate even if they don't moderate, they won't be able to get a nuclear weapon at least for the next decade or so, until the most constraining provisions of the deal go into sunset. After that, well... it's really not my problem.
    On Iran, I really didn't so much beat Bibi and his supporters in the U.S. as much as I showed them what was best for them. And they're just going to have to get used to it.
    In any event, guess what? Come January 2017, I'll be done with this Middle East muddle and with Mr. Netanyahu, too.

    Imagining Netanyahu's thoughts

    I love America and Americans. After all, I grew up here and know the country pretty well. Remember Madeleine Albright said I was the Israeli Newt Gingrich. I wonder if she meant that as a compliment? I know the Americans are Israel's closest ally, but I never really trusted U.S. officials. Sure I prefer Republicans these days. But I'll never forget that it was former Secretary of State James Baker who banned me from the White House in 1989 and Bush 41 who denied Israel housing loan guarantees in 1991.
    As for President Obama, I don't trust him at all and neither do most Israelis. He says he understands Israeli security needs but seems cold and emotionless when it comes to creating a real bond with me. You don't think I'm part of the problem, do you? My settlement building; injecting myself literally into the middle of a partisan debate on the Iran deal; and fighting to defeat the President's signature foreign policy achievement? But don't the Americans get it? When it comes to Iran's nuclear program, Israel's interests come first.
    Obama's sitting in comfortable Washington; and I'm the head of a country trying to survive in a dangerous neighborhood surrounded by jihadis and evil mullahs. And if that isn't enough, the President has pressed me to do more to solve the Palestinian problem. What's he smoking?
    Under normal circumstances I wouldn't consider anything like the June 1967 borders even with modifications, let alone dividing Jerusalem. Does he think with the Middle East blowing up and the very real possibility that ISIS or an affiliate are now putting bombs on planes I'm going to do it now?
    I'll be on my good behavior this week. But I'm going to have the last laugh. Come January 2017 I'll still be in office; and Mr. Obama won't. And no matter who's in the White House, it can't be any worse for me in Washington than it's been. After Obama, a President Trump, Bush, Rubio or Clinton will be a breath of fresh air -- at least for awhile.