Obama, Netanyahu look to be on course for clash

AP, JERUSALEM

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - Page 7

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday dismissed US President Barack Obama’s reported displeasure with his hard-line policies toward the Palestinians, a sign that the two could be headed for a showdown.

Polls suggest Netanyahu is poised to win Israel’s elections next week and continue in office.

This week a US columnist with close ties to the White House described Obama’s disdain for Netanyahu, warning that Israel’s all-important relations with the US could suffer in unprecedented ways if the Israeli government does not change its policies.

Such a clash would come at a tense time when regional developments appear to be working against Israel.

CLOUT

Israel and the US are seen as disagreeing over how and when to deal with Iran’s suspect nuclear program, and Islamist parties that Israel perceives as hostile are gaining clout in the Middle East.

As the world deals with those issues, even Israel’s close allies are getting increasingly fed up with what they see as defiant Israeli settlement construction on lands the Palestinians want for a state.

The column on Tuesday by Jeffrey Goldberg about Obama’s attitudes toward Netanyahu dominated Israeli news media, leading some Israeli officials to fume that Americans were trying to sway the results of Tuesday’s parliamentary elections.

Netanyahu seemed to suggest that when reporters asked him to respond to the column in Bloomberg News.

“We all understand that only Israeli citizens will determine who faithfully represents Israel’s vital interests,” Netanyahu told reporters, dismissing the reported criticism.

In his column, Goldberg wrote that Obama seems to view Netanyahu as a political coward whose unwillingness to make concessions to the Palestinians is plunging his country into diplomatic isolation.

“Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,” Goldberg cited Obama as saying.

VETOES

While the US will not cut off aid to Israel or waver on its commitment to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Goldberg wrote, Israel might not be able to count on US vetoes at the UN Security Council, as it has in the past, when the world lines up against it.

Goldberg indicated that out of frustration with the peacemaking deadlock, Obama might present his own idea about a future state of Palestine — including endorsing the Palestinian demand to divide Jerusalem between the two sides, a concept Netanyahu rejects.

The White House did not deny the harsh sentiments Goldberg put in Obama’s mouth. The tone and timing of the column suggested the US leader might be readying to play hardball with Netanyahu if the prime minister is re-elected — or conversely, wash his hands of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict altogether.