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Obama Clobbers Netanyahu

U.S. President Barack Obama Steps Up Pressure On Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

After Broadsides From Secretary Clinton, Adviser Axelrod & Spokesman Gibbs, Look For Envoy George Mitchell To Pitch In

IsraCast Assessment: Mitchell May Lean On Netanyahu To Accept Some Sort Of Freeze On East Jerusalem Building For Duration Of Proximity Talks With Palestinians

Barack Obama | Benyamin Netanyahu

 The Obama administration is milking the Israeli gaffe for all its worth. After Secretary Clinton, adviser Axelrod and spokesman Gibbs softened up the Israeli Prime Minister, look for envoy George Mitchell to lean on Netanyahu. The American officials have sounded loud and clear that Netanyahu's apology will not suffice - the U.S. wants actions not just words. IsraCast predicted that Obama would latch on to Israel's 'snafu' to push its opposition to Israeli settlements in general and specifically in east Jerusalem. Now it will be the turn of U.S. envoy George Mitchell - he can now be expected to play a more assertive role between Israel and the Palestinians than he has until now. Look for Mitchell to exert some not so friendly persuasion on Netanyahu contending that the White House holds him responsible for the Arab League withdrawing its support for the proximity talks and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas apparent pulling out. The bottom line for Obama is if the Israeli building announcement is to blame, it will be up to Netanyahu to set things right. The obvious thing would be some sort of commitment from the Israeli Prime Minister to suspend east Jerusalem building for the duration of the proximity talks. This would certainly be a very bitter pill for Netanyahu to swallow. His previous decision on a ten month housing freeze in most of Judea & Samaria (West Bank) was sharply criticized inside his own Likud party and among his Right-wing supporters. It is hard to envisage how to it could be made palatable enough for Netanyahu to accept while persuading Abbas to embark on the proximity talks.

What can be said is that the current confrontation between Jerusalem and Washington has put paid to the 'special relationship' does not apply to the Netanyahu government. (During his address at Tel Aviv University, Vice President Biden took pains to tell his applauding Israeli audience that he had no choice but to condemn their government's east Jerusalem announcement.) The breakup has been brewing for some time. In his Cairo address, President Obama signaled the Muslim world that he did not view the special relationship with Israel as all that special. If this assessment is on target, this is only the start of Netanyahu's headaches because if and when the proximity talks ever get back on track, Mitchell may also table proposals with all the weight of the White House. On the other hand, if the Israeli public gets the impression that Obama is unfairly badgering Netanyahu it could lead to a swing in solidarity with the Prime Minister. If Netanyahu is serious about making making progress with the Palestinians, he may have to consider bringing the Centrist Kadima party into his coalition but this is a very long shot at best. In any case, Washington has apparently decided that holding Netanyahu's feet to the fire now serves America's interests in the Middle East. It is demanding either that either Netanyahu conducts a major shift in policy that will facilitate the two state solution or risk its crucial relations with America. This is beginning to sink in with the Israeli public but it's still early days as to how this is going to play out. Both the Prime Minister and the country's leaders appear to be stunned by the extent of the administration's response and may be pondering if Obama is threatening to impose political sanctions on Israel. The position is tantamount to declaring that halting Israeli settlement building whether the West Bank or beyond the 1967 Green Line is now a vital American interest in the Middle East.

And while the diplomatic firestorm rages around the aftermath of the Jerusalem building announcement, fireworks of another kind altogether may soon erupt. West Bank Palestinians, with the support of Palestinian President Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, are warning of a new intifada.

In Tehran, President Ahmadenijad must be rubbing his hands in glee as he proceeds at full tilt to acquiring nuclear weapons.

David Essing

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