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The Obama Administration vs Prime Minister Netanyahu Confrontation in the making

The Obama Administration vs Prime Minister Netanyahu Confrontation in the making

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Published by: api-26808978 on Dec 02, 2009
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The Obama Administration vs. Prime Minister Netanyahu: Confrontation in the
Making? INSS Insight No. 108, May 17, 2009
Shalom, Zaki

A few months after coming into office, the strategic political approach of the new Obama
administration towards Israel and the Palestinian issue is becoming clearer. Although it has not
yet been fully solidified, this approach does not augur well for the Netanyahu government and
the political positions it represents. While thus far the administration has not yet announced an
official new peace plan, several recent utterances create a picture that might appear unfriendly,
perhaps even threatening, from the perspective of the current Israeli government.

President Shimon Peres' recent visit to the United States, before the arrival of Prime
Minister Netanyahu and of other heads of state from the region, is exceptional, at least in terms
of diplomatic protocol. Beyond his status as the president of the State of Israel, Peres has a
unique international standing. More than any other formal representative of Israel, he is seen as
a political moderate and personally identified with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel
probably intended thus to present Prime Minister Netanyahu as a leader truly seeking to
promote the Middle East peace process. If the US administration were convinced that this
message is authentic \u2013 so it was probably hoped in the Prime Minister\u2019s Office \u2013 Netanyahu
would be granted the heartfelt and warm reception the administration bestows on its favorites.
The US administration apparently identified this intention and chose not to cooperate with the
plan. Instead, it tended to minimize the media attention and the visit's public impact.

A sequence of public utterances and media reports by fairly senior officials in the US
administration, none of which was officially denied, also clearly indicates that a cloud is hovering
over the relations between the two states, which might be flagrantly visible during Netanyahu\u2019s
visit to the US and in his meetings with administration leaders, including President Obama:

1.National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones has made it clear that the administration

links its policy towards Iran and its nuclear advances to developments towards a
settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Netanyahu government will likely not
endorse such linkage. Gen. Jones\u2019 previous appointment was Special Envoy for Middle
East Security. His mission was to work out the security arrangements necessary for the
\u201ctwo states for two peoples\u201d vision to materialize. According to many media reports, he
wrote a report highly critical of Israel\u2019s positions and policies on the Palestinian issue and
argued that Israel defines its security interests in a future two-state solution too broadly.
According to Jones\u2019 report, these interests do not require Israeli military presence in the
territories, as Israel holds. Instead, NATO forces can be deployed.

2.The statement by the US that it expects Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea to join

the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: although similar statements have been sounded
from various US officials in the past, now, especially considering the dialogue the Obama
administration hopes to conduct with Iran, this statement is more worrisome. This position
of the administration, if it is pursued more assertively, might legitimize to an extent Iran\u2019s
claim that the issue of Iran\u2019s nuclear activity must be discussed in tandem with the Israeli
nuclear option.

3.President Obama\u2019s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, stated at the recent AIPAC convention

that this is the moment of truth for Israel, that the two-state solution is the only solution
and that the United States is committed to it, and that all parties to the conflict must fulfill
their obligations, as difficult as that might be. This statement was made before a pro-
Israel forum, after senior officials in Netanyahu\u2019s government have voiced explicit
disagreement with the two-state vision, and after the prime minister deliberately avoided
openly embracing this vision.

Various circumstances make it easier for President Obama to present Netanyahu with a
tough and critical policy towards Israel. The conflict itself is in a sustained period of relative
calm. This calm is attributed first and foremost to the deterrence Israel managed to achieve vis-
\u00e0-vis Hamas through Operation Cast Lead. Beyond that, the activity of Israel\u2019s security forces
throughout the West Bank largely paralyzes the capabilities of terrorist organizations. The US
administration may thus try to undermine Israel\u2019s main argument, also expressed in its

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