By Matthew L. Higgins

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be described as frosty at best, but can the two reconcile their differences with a fresh start should Netanyahu be reelected next week?

The two have not seen eye-to-eye on the construction of West Bank settlements and the Mideast peace deal, and tensions between the two reached a new level after Netanyahu spoke before Congress about the Iranian nuclear deal.

Over the weekend, Obama told CBS News that there won’t be a deal if it threatens U.S. security.

For his part, Netanyahu called it a “matter of survival” for Israel.

If Netanyahu wins re-election in Israel, he and Obama will still have to work with each other on Israeli-U.S. issues for the next year-and-a-half. But will there be a reset button on relations come a new presidential administration in 2017?

Charles Freilich, Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center and former deputy national security adviser in Israel, told CBSDC that a new administration and the Netanyahu regime will both have to make an effort to repair relations.

“No permanent damage has been caused, but there is a cumulative effect of recurring disappointment that has to be overcome. If there is an upset in the upcoming Israeli elections that will already make a huge difference. If not, Netanyahu knows that he has to make a major effort with the next president,” Freilich said. “He may have caused most of the damage, but he understands the consequences, and will undoubtedly wish to right it once a new president takes office.”

Freilich explained that the next administration will need to rebuild renewed trust on the Mideast peace process and Iran.

“On the peace process, the United States increasingly questions whether Netanyahu wants a deal that requires significant concessions and in Israel there are questions regarding the administration’s judgment, the way it handled the peace process, putting forward some demands that were unnecessary and unrealistic – for example, demanding a total settlement freeze, including in the settlement blocs in East Jerusalem,” Freilich told CBSDC. “Iran, until now, was basically a consensual issue between the U.S. and Israel, that will have to be renewed.”

In regards to the current situation, Freilich stated that the intimacy of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel “cannot be renewed with these two leaders.”

“What has happened is that Netanyahu has succeeded in marginalizing himself on the Iranian issue, at least from the administration’s point of view, they no longer take his concerns into account – though they do take what they perceive to be Israel’s strategic concerns into account,” Freilich told CBSDC. “It is unclear if Obama plans to try another stab at the peace talks during the remainder of his presidency. I tend to think he will be hesitant to do so following the collapse of the efforts last year, but there is something of a tradition of American presidents giving it a last try in the final period of their presidency.”

The Mideast peace process became a topic of discussion on Sunday after Netanyahu was reportedly quoted as saying that the creation of a Palestinian state in a deal would not be a relevant idea in the current reality of the Middle East.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran. Therefore, there will be no concessions and no withdrawals. It is simply irrelevant,” a Likud party statement read, according to The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu’s office said that he had “never said any such thing.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki weighed in on the report Monday, saying that the U.S. “counts on having Israeli and Palestinian partners” who are committed to a two-state solution.

“A lot of things are said during election campaigns,” Psaki said. “We’ll wait to see the policies of the next Israeli government.”

Israel’s elections will be held March 17.


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