- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Having failed to make progress during the past eight years with Israel toward a two-state solution, President Obama acknowledged Wednesday that he’s turning over the challenge to the next president as he met for the last time with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seal a new U.S. military aid package.

“Obviously, I’m only going to be president for another three months,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he met with Mr. Netanyahu in New York City on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. “Our hope will be that in these conversations, we get a sense of how Israel sees the next few years.”

Mr. Obama also said the U.S. has “concerns about settlement activity” by the Israelis on the West Bank, a major source of friction in starting peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Behind closed doors the two leaders sparred over the issue of Israeli settlements.

A senior administration official said Mr. Obama raised “profound U.S. concerns about the corrosive effect that that is having on the prospects of two states,” and Mr. Netanyahu pushed back.

“They’ve never papered over their differences,” another senior administration official said.

But with Mr. Obama leaving office, the focus for a breakthrough in the Middle East will shift to either Republican Donald Trump, who promises to shake up foreign policy, or Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is viewed as more hawkish than Mr. Obama.

“Our hope is that we can continue to be an effective partner with Israel,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he hopes his last face-to-face meeting with Mr. Netanyahu will “assure that we keep alive the possibility of a stable, secure Israel at peace with its neighbors and a Palestinian [nation] that meets the aspirations of their people.”

Mr. Netanyahu thanked the president for “the extensive security and intelligence cooperation between our two countries,” which includes a new 10-year military aid package worth $38 billion, the largest deal ever by the U.S.

“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,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Mr. Obama said the military aid “allows the Israelis [to] have some kind of certainty in a moment when there’s enormous uncertainty in the region.”

“It’s a very difficult and dangerous time in the Middle East,” Mr. Obama said, noting the civil war in Syria and a surge in attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The two leaders have had a difficult and often frosty relationship during Mr. Obama’s presidency. Relations between them hit bottom when Mr. Netanyahu showed up on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress against Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

On Tuesday Mr. Netanyahu made a public show of friendliness at their final meeting.

“Your influential voice will be heard for many decades, and I know you’ll continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself and its right to thrive as a Jewish state,” he told Mr. Obama.

He also invited Mr. Obama to play golf in Israel after his term ends in January.

“I want you to know, Barack, that you will always be a welcome guest in Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran did not come up in the 30-minute meeting.

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