Guardian’s Peter Beaumont omits key information in latest Bibi-Obama row

An article published this morning in the Guardian by their Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont (Netanyahu turns down Obama meeting and cancels US trip, March 8) claimed that Israel’s prime minister turned down a scheduled meeting in Washington with President Obama, and that the White House only learned of the “cancellation” through the media.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu turned down the offer of a meeting with president Barack Obama, prompting a sharp response from the White House, in the latest evidence of the tense relations between the two leaders.

The abrupt decision by Netanyahu to cancel a visit to Washington later this month surprised US officials, who said they learned of the cancellation via the media.

The White House additionally disputed reports in the Israeli media that said Netanyahu cancelled the trip after the White House had been unable to find a date for a meeting that worked with Obama’s schedule, saying those suggestions were “false”.

Netanyahu had been expected to visit the US in March on a trip coinciding with a major pro-Israeli group’s annual summit.

The White House said Israel had proposed two dates for a meeting between the leaders and the US had offered to meet on one of those days.

“We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s national security council.

“We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit.”

A statement later issued by the prime minister’s office said that while Netanyahu “appreciated Obama’s willingness to meet him”, he decided “not to go to Washington at this time, at the height of the primary election campaigns in the United States”. Sources in Netanyahu’s office briefed that a continued disagreement over the size of a new US defence aid deal was also a factor.

However, the Guardian story, which was published at 11:14 this morning (Israeli time), failed to include a statement by Amb. Ron Dermer, reported by the Israeli media several hours before Beaumont’s piece, that no meeting had ever been scheduled and that the White House was told last week that there was a good chance that Netanyahu wouldn’t be attending.

Here are the relevant passages in a Times of Israel report, published at 8:10 this morning (Israeli time), by diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahern:

Jerusalem rebuffed a White House claim early Tuesday that Washington had only learned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t visit the US for a meeting with President Barack Obama, hours after the White House said it was “surprised” over reports that the Israeli leader had spurned an offer to meet.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office, which contended no meeting had ever been scheduled, was a sign of lingering tensions between Jerusalem and Washington, coming hours before US Vice President Joe Biden was slated to visit Israel for high level talks.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Ron Dermer, the Israeli envoy to the US, had told the White House last week that there was a good chance Netanyahu would not fly to the US in late March, despite Obama’s availability.

“Last Friday, during a meeting in the White House, Israel’s envoy to Washington Ron Dermer expressed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appreciation for Obama’s offer to meet with him, should he visit Washington,” the statement read. “With that, Dermer also informed them that there was a high chance that the prime minister won’t go to Washington, and that a final answer would be given Monday after he spoke with him.”

(Haaretz Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid included a version of the Dermer denial in a report published at 12:18 AM on March 8th, nearly 11 hours before Beaumont’s article.) 

The question of whether Washington or Jerusalem is telling the truth over the sequence of events is not relevant.  

The important question is why Beaumont failed to provide readers with an accurate characterization of the Israeli denial of White House claims, which, we noted, was widely reported hours before his own article was published?

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