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US-Israel tensions rise as Netanyahu cancels White House meeting

The relationship between Netanyahu and Obama worsened after the US-led nuclear deal with Iran [Bloomberg]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2016

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has spurned a meeting with US President Barack Obama in the latest sign of increased tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu controversially turned down an invitation to meet with US President Barack Obama on Monday at the White House later this month.

Netanyahu's office told the media that the Israeli prime minister has cancelled his entire trip to the US, where he was set to speak at a policy conference hosted by Israeli lobby group American Israel Public Affair Committee [AIPAC].

Initial reasons given for the cancellation included accusations from Israeli government sources that the White House did not schedule an appropriate slot for a meeting with the Israeli prime minister.

But the White House subsequently denied the claim.

Netanyahu was invited to meet Obama and the administration was only made aware of the cancellation through media reports, the White House said.

"We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit," a White House spokesman said.

"Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister's schedule are false," he added.

Netanyahu's office responded on Tuesday stating the prime minister chose to cancel his trip to avoid interfering in the current US presidential primary elections.

As both Republic and Democrat US presidential candidates are scheduled to attend the AIPAC conference, Israeli government sources said Netanyahu is avoiding the conference in order not to be forced to display support for either side.

"We wanted to prevent such a situation," a source at Netanyahu's bureau said, according to reports by Israeli daily Haaretz.

Reports also indicate that talks over US's military aid package to Israel, which are yet to be resolved, might have been an important factor leading to the cancellation of the trip.

The US agreed to increase military support to Israeli by $400 million per year, but Israel expects to receive between $1-2 billion annually.

Negotiations have since stalled over the amount of the annual grant.

The cancellation of the scheduled visit is not the first time the Israeli prime minister has been accused of breaching diplomatic protocol.

Last year, the Israeli prime minister announced plans to speak to a joint session of Congress without consulting or notifying the US president.

Netanyahu used that speech to implore on US lawmakers to reject the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel sees as emboldening its arch-enemy.

New developments may indicate Netanyahu is seeking to limit his interaction with Obama in hope for a friendlier face following the new election of a US president at the end of 2016.

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