A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
June 2, 2009-Netnyahu and Obama, Tension Rising
The level of tension between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama is rising, with Obama giving an interview yesterday stating that for too long American administrations have not been honest enough as a friend of Israel on the question of building in the territories. Netanyahu's office is convinced that Rahm Emanuel stands behind a campaign to undermine Netanyahu. If that is the case, it is by all accounts a brilliant move from the American perspective. Netanyahu is caught in an impossible dilemma. He does not want a full fledge fight with an American President, especially over an issue where the majority of the Israeli public will not support. On the other hand, if he announces a settlement freeze, he could lose his coalition. It is not clear that he would indeed lose the coalition, since his partners have no where to go- but he is worried about that possibility. Netanyahu’s office is trying to work on three compromise plans, two of which are clearly not acceptable to Obama’s government. The first is announcing a freeze and going ahead and building, while the second is going back to the previous plan to build only in the settlement blocks. The third plan that is being discussed is what is being called the terrace room plan. Israel agrees only to add onto buildings within the existing built up blocks and not to increase the area of the built up area of the settlements. Its not clear if either Netanyahu or Obama will accept this plan. Barak is coming to Washington to try to work something out. Meanwhile, Obama leaves for Riyadh tonight.
After I wrote this the White House released a transcript of President Obama interview. This in itself is unusual and indicates that it really is trying to increase the pressure- Here is the excertpt from the interiview - judge for yourself.-
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY MICHELE NORRIS AND STEVE INSKEEP
OF NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
June 1, 2009 Library 4:02 P. M. EDT
Q Mr. President, thank you for joining us -- that we could join you, in this case. If you want to improve relations with the Muslim world, do you have to change or alter in some way the strong U. S. support for Israel?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think that we have to change strong U. S. support for Israel. I think that we do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace, and that that's going to require, from my view, a two-state solution; that it's going to require that each side -- Israelis and Palestinians -- meet their obligations.
I've said very clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements including natural growth is part of those obligations. I've said to the Palestinians that their continued progress on security and ending the incitement that I think understandably makes Israelis so concerned -- that that has to be -- those obligations have to be met.
So the key is to just believe that that process can move forward and that all sides are going to have to give. And it's not going to be an easy path, but one that I think we can achieve.
Q Mr. President, you mentioned a freeze on settlements. The Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is quoted today saying to Cabinet members in Israel that he will not follow your demand for a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, that it's not going to happen. What does it suggest that Israel is not taking your advice?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's still early in the process. They formed a government, what, a month ago? I think that we're going to have a series of conversations. Obviously the first priority of a Israeli Prime Minister is to think in terms of Israel's security. I believe that strategically the status quo is unsustainable when it comes to Israeli security; that over time, in the absence of peace with the Palestinians, Israel will continue to be threatened militarily and will have enormous problems along its borders.
And so it is not only in the Palestinians' interest to have a state; I believe it is in the Israelis, as well, and in the United States' interest as well.
Q But if the United States says for years that Israel should stop the settlements, and for years Israel simply does not, and the United States continues supporting Israel in roughly the same way, what does that do with American credibility in the Muslim world, which you're trying to address?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what is certainly true is that the United States has to follow through on what it says. Now, as I said before, I haven’t said anything yet because it's early in the process. But it is important for us to be clear about what we believe will lead to peace and that there's not equivocation and there's not a sense that we expect only compromise on one side; it's going to have to be two-sided.
`And I don't think anybody would deny that in theory. When it comes to the concrete, then the politics of it get difficult both within the Israeli and the Palestinian communities. But, look, if this was easy it would have already been done.
Q Many people in the region are concerned; when they look at the U. S. relationship with Israel, they feel that Israel has favored status in all cases. And what do you say to people in the Muslim world who feel that the U. S. has, repeatedly over time, blindly supported Israel?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what I'd say is there's no doubt that the United States has a special relationship with Israel. There are a lot of Israelis who used to be Americans. There is huge cross-cultural ties between the two countries. I think that as a vibrant democracy that shares many of our values, obviously we're deeply sympathetic to Israel.
And I think I would also say that given past statements surrounding Israel -- the notion that they should be driven into the sea, that they should be annihilated, that they should be obliterated, the armed aggression that's been directed towards them in the past -- you can understand why not only Israelis would feel concern, but the United States would feel it was important to back this stalwart ally.
Now, having said all that, what is also true is that part of being a good friend is being honest, and I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region is profoundly negative not only for Israeli interests, but also U. S. interests. And that's part of a new dialogue that I'd like to see encouraged in the region.