When Barack Met Bibi

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"You know, they let ME keep my BlackBerry." Photo: Getty Images

This afternoon's meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went off without a hitch, with both sides feeling one another out over Iran's nuclear development and drawing soft lines on other issues, like a two-state solution with Palestine and the halt of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Obama insisted upon the latter, putting pressure on his counterpart — whose government had approved a new spate of settlements just this morning. Obama referenced Palestinian statehood, but Netanyahu only argued for the right of the Palestinians to self-govern, never mentioning a separate state. And while Obama said that he was "not naïve" about possible upcoming talks with Iran to discontinue their nuclear program, Netanyahu pushed for a firmer stance.

Here's what the Internet punditry has to say so far about the meetings:

• While more than twice as many Israelis think Obama is pro-Israel than think he is pro-Palestine (more still think he is neutral), the Israeli press was skeptical of the visits. "Israel and its American ally clearly have a list of urgent issues to address," wrote Ophir Falk in Yediot Aharonot. "These include the global economic crisis and the imminent nuclear threat. The establishment of a Palestinian state is not of top priority. In fact, the Palestinian state may be a non-issue." [Fox News]

• "The problem is that Obama's desire to stand apart from his predecessor George W. Bush and go for jaw-jaw rather than war-war does not tally with Israel's preoccupations, especially after voters' shift to the right following disillusion the Oslo peace process and Israel's unilateral pull-out from the Gaza Strip in 2005," writes Lionel Laurent. "But sometimes discord can be a good thing. It is good that Obama is not afraid to publicly disagree with Israel's prime minister, and it is also good that Netanyahu was not able to dodge the issue of Palestine statehood in favor of the Iranian threat." [Forbes]

• Paul Hilder argues that, despite Bibi's tough streak, flexible Obama entered the meeting with the upper hand: "Israelis trust Obama as a leader far more than their own prime minister Bibi Netanyahu — with 59% of Israelis calling the US President trustworthy, and only 31% saying this of Bibi," he writes. "What is more, 65% of Israelis — that's almost two in three — want President Obama to get actively involved to help solve the conflict, as do 70% of Palestinians." [HuffPo]

• Jo-Ann Mort argues that despite Netanyahu's reputation as an inflexible hard-liner, even he can see that some of Obama's nuance is for his own good. "There is a tremendous economic advantage to Israel to take these steps and run with them," she writes, referring to easing off with threats of force and joining with potential Arab allies, like King Abdullah of Jordan, to curb Iran. "Bibi, a man of international finance and a fan of globlization [sic] and Israel's role in a globalized world, knows this. The alternative could be a dangerous economic status and continued brain drain in Israel." [TPM Café/TMP]

• Ben Smith points out that Bibi has also learned from his past state visits. In 1998, when visiting then-president Bill Clinton, he made a big show of meeting with conservative leaders (including Jerry Falwell) first. This time around, he went for a "low-conflict" approach, not including any GOP power players on his schedule while he's here. [Politico]

• In fact, Gideon Rachman thought that "Netanyahu, often self-confident and aggressive in private, was a real pussy-cat." And when Obama defended his overtures to Iran as not being weak, Netanyahu even "looked grave and nodded in apparent agreement." [FT]

Oh, and just so you know, the present Bibi gave Barack was a portentous one: A copy of "Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land," from Mark Twain's 1867 book The Innocents Abroad. The story contains strong language warning against what happens to a Jerusalem under Muslim rule:

Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound. Lepers, cripples, the blind, and the idiotic, assail you on every hand, and they know but one word of but one language apparently — the eternal 'bucksheesh.' To see the numbers of maimed, malformed and diseased humanity that throng the holy places and obstruct the gates, one might suppose that the ancient days had come again, and that the angel of the was expected to descend at any moment to stir the waters of Bethesda. Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless.

No word on whether that section was highlighted.