Putting Bibi and Barack on the Couch

Why There's Little Hope of Better Relationship Between Leaders

Not Happy Campers: There’s a reason why Bibi and Barack never look comfortable with each other. They don’t see eye to eye and the reasons may be much more deep-seated than politics.
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Not Happy Campers: There’s a reason why Bibi and Barack never look comfortable with each other. They don’t see eye to eye and the reasons may be much more deep-seated than politics.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 27, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.

As Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama look toward new terms in office, their long, tense relationship will now feature a new twist: The re-inaugurated American leader launches his second term greatly emboldened, while the Israeli prime minister emerges from a jolt of an election that has greatly weakened him.

Nevertheless, psychiatrists and political analysts alike believe that the impact on their forced marriage will be four more years of pretty much the same thing — pronounced disagreements alongside pragmatic attempts to prevent their relationship from falling apart.

The prospect of a continued but troubled cohabitation, say these experts, is almost predestined by their respective psychological makeups and the political reality confronting them. One partner may be Jewish and the other may be Protestant, but in political terms this is not a mixed marriage: Both are Catholics, joined in a union until death do they part, with divorce an unpardonable sin.

“Both of them have a job to do, and they will realize that working with each other is key to their jobs,” said Robert Danin, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They will both do their best.” Danin acknowledged, however, that both leaders “now have history” and that “this history will color their relationship.”

It won’t be easy. Aaron David Miller, a former senior Middle East adviser to four presidents, described that history succinctly as “the most dysfunctional relationship I’ve ever seen.”

Netanyahu emerged as a diminished winner in Israel’s January 22 elections when his party took a hit that is likely to force him into a narrow centrist coalition rather than a strong majority coalition leaning hard to the right, as had been expected. Obama, on the other hand, fresh off an impressive election victory, demonstrated in his January 20 inauguration speech that he sees his second term as a chance to achieve an ambitious agenda, undeterred by political constraints.

Thrown into this volatile political mix is the personality factor, a dimension of their relationship that has already bedeviled their interactions.



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