New York Times reports Netanyahu won’t discuss on U.S. election

(JTA) – Benjamin Netanyahu is adhering to a strict policy of silence on the U.S. election to avoid a repeat of his 2012 troubles over perceived meddling, the New York Times reported.

The Israeli prime minister offered no comment on the subject during a recent three-hour meeting with U.S. political figures, the Times reported Thursday in an article headlined “As Trump vs. Clinton captivates world, Netanyahu is unusually silent.” It was one of the first articles carrying the byline of Peter Baker, the newspaper’s new Jerusalem bureau chief.

“I think we were all struck by the fact that it wasn’t raised,” Meghan O’Sullivan, a former adviser to president George W. Bush, said about the election, in recalling a recent talk she attended with Netanyahu. During a meeting last week, Senators Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, and Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, mentioned the election only to have Netanyahu skirt the subject, according to the Times.

“Much of the rest of the world is absorbed by the contest between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton, but it is a topic Netanyahu will not touch,” Baker wrote, calling Netanyahu’s no-comment policy “a virtual vow of silence” that is unusual for an Israeli leader known for his interest in U.S. affairs.

In 2012, Netanyahu hosted in Jerusalem and praised Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger, in what the Obama team viewed as an effort to influence the election, though Netanyahu’s office denied this. The rift widened when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to address the U.S. Congress in 2015 to assail Obama’s efforts to negotiate a deal with Iran meant to curb its nuclear program.

“The prime minister now seems intent on extricating himself from the partisan tussle,” read Baker’s article.

The campaigns, in turn, are largely staying away from discussion of Israel, according to the Times, raising concerns – including on Netanyahu’s part – that the United States is pulling back from regional issues concerning Israel as it prioritizes the Islamic State, the war in Syria and relations with Russia. “The Israeli-Palestinian dispute, once a dominant part of any White House foreign policy, seems to be slipping to a second-tier issue,” the Times article reads.

Netanyahu and Obama have tried lately to put their difficulties behind them by negotiating a 10-year American security aid package for Israel, the terms of which are “all but complete,” according to the report.

“The White House has been discussing how to announce it,” and it is likely to be signed by lower-level officials at a UN meeting this month, according to the article.

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