Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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Will Barack Obama risk getting tough with Binyamin Netanyahu?

Posted by claudiacampli su 21 maggio, 2009

Times

Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator

How tough could President Obama be on Israel if he wanted? And how tough is he likely to be? He could make life expensive and uncomfortable for Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new Prime Minister. That could have repercussions for him, from American public anger and opposition in Congress — as George Bush senior and Jimmy Carter, two presidents who took a tougher line, could warn him.

It seems unlikely that Obama will present Netanyahu with obstacles that he finds very hard or unpleasant to navigate. US political pressure, and Obama’s instinct for conciliation, point that way, as does the tone of this week’s meeting. Obama’s June 4 speech to the Arab world will give the next clue.

Monday’s meeting left four US-Israeli disagreements unresolved. The biggest is Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and their roads, checkpoints and barriers, which have left Palestinian territory as disconnected towns — a “bunch of grapes”, as some scornfully call the remaining land. Netanyahu asserts their right to “expand naturally” — a gaping loophole. Second, will Israel accept the US goal of a separate Palestinian state? Obama failed to drag the phrase “two-state solution” out of Netanyahu. Another is Netanyahu’s demand (a newish one) for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for talks — unsubtle code for dropping the demand of refugees’ right to return. That is often seen as part of a final deal but not the price of entry to talks.

Finally, there is Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are Israel’s priority, and that there must be progress on this in parallel with Palestinian talks. Obama gave him an easy ride on this linkage of two problems usually treated as separate, outside the hothouse of Israeli politics.

The most obvious leverage is money. In 1992 President Bush held up $10 billion in loan guarantees that Israel wanted, to build homes for Russian immigrants, to extract a promise that the money would not fund settlements. He lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton by such a margin that it would be hard to argue that the Israel issue was decisive. But it was unhelpful; he lost a big slice of the Jewish vote in New Jersey and Ohio — and lost both states overall, even though he had previously won them easily.

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