Body language experts who watched US President Barack Obama's meeting
with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
on Wednesday believe that the crisis in the relations between the two leaders has passed, at least temporarily.
"There is no doubt, at least as far as appearances go, that the relationship between Obama
and Netanyahu has improved greatly this time, in comparison to past meetings between the two," says Michelle Stein Teer, an expert on political rhetoric and communications in front of a camera.
Along with this, Stein Teer says, it appears the US president feels closer to President Shimon Peres
than to Netanyahu. “As Obama got off the plane, there were two very interesting hugs,” she explains. “With Netanyahu it was a handshake and a half hug; with Peres, he held him with both hands and hugged him. The hug he gave Peres was warmer, and you saw that President Obama has great respect, warmth and appreciation for him."
Peres, Obama and Bibi (Photo: AP)
In speeches given by the leaders, both at Ben Gurion Airport
and at the prime minister’s residence, both made sure to call the other by their first names: Netanyahu called the US president “Barack” and Obama called Netanyahu “Bibi” – a precedent that the US president already set in an interview which he gave to Israeli media on the eve of his departure to Israel.
“This is a planned change, and very significant,” Stein Teer says. “It shows a closeness between them.”
|Obama-Netanyahu press conference|
|Obama's reception at Ben Gurion Airport|
Anat Hecht-Fisher, another body language and image expert, also emphasizes the positive signs that stood out during the welcome speeches at Ben-Gurion Airport.
“When Peres spoke, Obama was very attentive, and when Bibi spoke, Obama stood erect, he was very much in control. At a certain point, when Bibi
said they would get him a disguise and take him to a bar, Obama’s tension broke. He laughed a full laugh and crossed his legs, with one pointing in the direction of Bibi. This reflects warmth and engagement. This is something I had not seen in any of their earlier meetings,” she adds.
Obama, Netanyahu and the jackets (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
Hecht-Fisher also brought up the moment in which the prime minister mimicked Obama by taking off his jacket.
“When Obama took off his jacket, it looked very natural. Netanyahu
understood within 20 seconds that it was a good photo opportunity, but he didn’t look natural at all. He had to arrange his pants and belt, and you could tell that he did not feel comfortable in the situation.”
The spirit of closeness and warmth came through also at the press conference held at the prime minister’s residence.
“There was much eye contact, which showed intimacy and closeness, and when Obama spoke, Bibi leaned comfortably on the podium,” Hecht-Fisher notes. “This was interesting because they are both left-handed, and for a large part of the time, their dominant hand was their right one – which signifies control.”
The experts both emphasized one exceptional moment during the speeches: when Obama closed with a quote from a letter written by the prime minister’s brother, Yoni Netanyahu.
“At this moment, the prime minister bit his lip,” Stein Teer says. “This showed that he was moved and he was trying to keep in his emotions in-check. At the end of Obama’s speech, the two shook hands and it was clear that Bibi was very moved. It was a strong hand shake, a handshake of equals.”
During their speeches, the two world leaders also referred to current issues including the Iranian threat, the Syrian situation, and the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict. According to the experts, it was in these moments that their body language showed earnestness.
“When Obama spoke about the (Palestinian) conflict, I noticed he had an upside down smile. This reflects the great difficulty that he foresees in the issue, and it came back several times,” Stein Teer says.