Netanyahu flies home amid disagreement with Obama on key issues
(DEBKAfile) US president Barack Obama kept on turning the screw on Israeli minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday, March 24, after their harsh conversation in the White House Tuesday: Netanyahu was told bluntly to issue a White House-dictated public pledge before leaving Washington for home to eschew further construction in East Jerusalem, or else face a US presidential notice condemning Israel and holding its government responsible for the failure to restart indirect Israel-Palestinian talks.
Reporting this, DEBKAfile’s Washington sources add that Netanyahu’s public renunciation of Jerusalem construction was required to include also the large Jewish suburbs of the city and remain in force for the duration of negotiations. He must also pledge further concessions to the Palestinians. As part of the ultimatum, the US president warned the Israeli prime minister that he also intended formulating in detail for the first time the settlement the US government sought for solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Netanyahu flew out of Wednesday night without reaching common ground with the president on the key points at issue. He and defense minister Ehud Barak spent their last hours in the US capital working on a statement that might satisfy the White House. Barak worked out of the Israel embassy with the president’s special adviser Dennis Ross at the National Security Council’s office at the White House. Middle East envoy George Mitchell shuttled between them in an effort to save his mission.
A high-ranking US official categorized the current crisis in US-Israeli relations as the most acute in 54 years, ever since 1956 when President Dwight Eisenhower gave David Ben-Gurion an ultimatum to pull Israeli forces out of Sinai — certainly more serious than the impasse over the Madrid conference between the first President Bush and Yitzhak Shamir in 1992.
A US presidential notice condemning Israel and predetermining the shape of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would be tantamount to a US diktat and put the lid on negotiations, direct or indirect, because Israel would be dragged to the table in handcuffs to face an Arab partner who would accept nothing less than the terms Washington imposed in advance on Israel. Such a notice would put a clamp on the close dialogue which has historically characterized US-Israeli ties — to the detriment of Israel’s international standing.
The Washington Post laid the blame for the crisis squarely on President Obama, whom it accused of treating Netanyahu “as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length.” The WP went on to say: “Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun.
“A new administration can be excused for making such a mistake in the treacherous and complex theater of Middle East diplomacy. That’s why Obama was given a pass by many when he made exactly the same mistake last year. The second time around, the president doesn’t look naive. He appears ideological — and vindictive.”