Thursday, 25 March 2010

Netanyahu Leaves U.S. Disgraced as Israel Pledges More Construction in Al-Quds

Netanyahu Leaves U.S. Disgraced as Israel Pledges More Construction in Al-Quds
Hanan Awarekeh

25/03/2010 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making his way back to Tel Aviv after failing to reach an agreement with the White House that would advance the launching of so-called proximity talks with the Palestinians.

Despite the statement announced by his office, it seems that the rift between Netanyahu’s government and Obama’s is still there that if it has not got larger. Israeli Media described Netanyahu’s trip to Washington as a big failure adding that perhaps it would have been better that the Israeli Prime Minister had not gone there this week. It also said that Netanyahu is leaving America “disgraced, isolated, and altogether weaker than when he came.”

Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday that the visit - touted as a fence-mending effort, a bid to strengthen the tenuous ties between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama - only highlighted the deep rift between the American and Israeli administrations.

“Instead of setting the diplomatic agenda, Netanyahu surrendered control over it. Instead of leaving the Palestinian issue aside and focusing on Iran, as he would like,” the report added, “Netanyahu now finds himself fighting for the legitimacy of Israeli control over (occupied) East Jerusalem.”

At the start of his visit, Netanyahu was tempted to bask in the warm welcome he received at the AIPAC conference, at which he gave his emotional address on occupied Jerusalem.

Israeli daily continued, “Knowing Netanyahu would be reenergized by his speech at the lobby, Obama and his staff set him a honey trap. Over the weekend they sought to quell the row that flared up during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's trip two weeks ago, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Netanyahu's response to the ultimatums Washington presented to him as useful.”

Just when Netanyahu thought he had resolved the crisis by apologizing to Biden, Clinton called him up for a dressing down. This time as well, Netanyahu almost believed the crisis had passed, that he had survived by offering partial, noncommittal answers to the Americans' questions. Shortly before meeting with Obama, Netanyahu even warned the Palestinians that should they continue to demand a freeze on construction, he would postpone peace talks by a year.

Haaretz added, “His arrogant tone underscored the fact that Netanyahu believed that on the strength of his AIPAC speech, he could call the next few steps of the diplomatic dance. But then calamity struck. At their White House meeting, Obama made clear to his guest that the letter Netanyahu had sent was insufficient and returned it for further corrections.”

The revolution in the Americans' behavior is clear to all. On Sunday morning Obama was still anxiously looking ahead to the House of Representatives vote on health care - the last thing he wanted was a last-minute disagreement with congressmen over ties with Israel. The moment the bill was passed, however, a victorious Obama was free to deal with his unruly guest.

The Americans made every effort to downplay the visit. As during his last visit in November, Netanyahu was invited to the White House at a late hour, without media coverage or a press conference. If that were not enough, the White House spokesman challenged Netanyahu's observation at AIPAC that occupied "Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is Israel’s capital".

And during talks with senior American officials in Washington overnight Thursday, Netanyahu's advisers apparently failed to draft a document specifying Israel's commitments vis-à-vis the peace process. The Israeli PM rejected the idea of issuing a joint US-Israeli statement on the understandings reached during the talks before seeking the approval of the forum of seven ministers.

The forum is expected to convene Thursday evening - after Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak return- to discuss the American demands, which include a flexible Israeli position regarding a construction moratorium in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as an Israeli commitment to discuss the core issues during talks with the Palestinians and to setting a timetable for the launching of direct negotiations.

Meanwhile, Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said an emergency national government with Kadima should be established in order to "stave off the demand to freeze construction and divide Jerusalem (Al-Quds) in light of President Obama's unfair pressure."

And in another defy for the freeze of construction calls, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the government will continue to build up occupied Jerusalem and that it is clear there will be no moratorium on construction, Army Radio reported Thursday. "I thank God I have been given the opportunity to be the minister who approves the construction of thousands of housing units in Jerusalem," Yishai said in an interview with ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yom Yom.

Moreover, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom on Thursday also said that construction in occupied Jerusalem is "unconditional," claiming that Israel is dealing only with the regulations and procedure. "How did we get to the point that building in Jerusalem has turned into a stumbling block? If we blink now, we will lose everything, and when that happens the government will collapse," he told Israel Radio.

Shalom added that Netanyahu "has a mandate from the Jewish people and we don't have the option of making another decision." He also said, "We are facing a historic decision. The United States knows that when the time comes, Israel will be the only one to stand by it."

Netanyahu said this week, "Our policy on Jerusalem is the same policy followed by all Israeli governments for the 42 years, and it has not changed." "As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv."

Also in Tel Aviv, Israeli Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said Netanyahu should be praised for insisting on Israel's interests with the US administration. "We are not a leftist government, and construction in Jerusalem is part of the consensus – it is the capital of the people of Israel," Hershkowitz said.

"We do not want to fight with our great friend, but our responsibility is towards the people of Israel. We are an independent state and not an American dependant. We must avoid a situation whereby we close down the Knesset and government, hand (US President Barack) Obama the keys and allow him to tell us what to do," he said.

Israeli media quoted sources close to right-wing cabinet members as saying that before Netanyahu left for Washington he was told to take a tough stance on Israeli settlements in occupied east Jerusalem even at the risk of a full-blown crisis.

According to one source, Netanyahu was told that Israel must make it clear to the US that the issue of occupied Jerusalem (Al-Quds) is nonnegotiable. "If the Americans insist, then they can break down the negotiations," one Israeli minister was quoted as saying.

River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

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