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Israel Seeks Obama Solution

Prime Minister Netanyahu Burns Midnight Oil Seeking Solution That Will Appease President Obama In Jerusalem Row

Defense Minister Barak Calls U.S. Envoy Mitchell

To Return To Israel

IsraCast Assessment: Obama Demanding Israeli Concession That Will Also Jump-start Proximity Talks With Palestinians - Netanyahu May Commit To Build Only In Jewish Communities Beyond Green Line & Not In 'Arab' East Jerusalem

 President Barack Obama has said there is no crisis between the U.S. and Israel and the special relations with the Israel people will not go way. However Obama also told Fox News that he was still awaiting answers from Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Answers to demands made by Secretary Hillary Clinton required to rectify the Israeli announcement, during Vice President Joe Biden's visit, on 1600 new apartments to be built beyond the old 1967 line (Green Line) in Jerusalem. Analyst David Essing is of the view the Obama administration is now pressing Israel for concessions that will not only persuade West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to participate in the proximity talks but to also jump-start the U.S. mediated negotiation once they get going.

 It is now abundantly clear that U.S. President Barack Obama is demanding Israeli concessions not only to set right the Israeli insult of Vice President Joe Biden. Obama is exploiting the Israeli government's egregious gaffe by also insisting that Israel now make a serious concession with two goals in mind. First, to entice West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to participate in the proposed proximity talks to be mediated by U.S. envoy George Mitchell (without the renewed support by the Arab League, Abbas is unlikely to reconsider). Secondly, Obama apparently wants Netanyahu to offer a concession that will help jump-start the proximity format. Meanwhile, Washington has made clear that Mitchell will not even return to Israel until Netanyahu delivers. The heart of the matter is the volatile issue of Jerusalem which Israel declares as its undivided capital where it is sole sovereign, the Palestinians demand that eastern Jerusalem be recognized as capital of future Palestine. The U.S. has always sided with the Arabs saying it must be negotiated; Netanyahu and his Likud party categorically insist that it will never be up for negotiation. Some commentators have contended that Jerusalem is such a deal- breaker it should be left to the last issue in any Israeli- Palestinian negotiation.

The Interior Ministry announcement has in effect forced Netanyahu's hand. Rather than being left for the last nut to crack, it has been propelled to the top of the agenda and Washington is warning Israel of the consequences. Aware of what's at stake and the Iranian nuclear threat at the back of everyone's mind, the Prime Minister has been burning the midnight oil with the other other key cabinet members who make up the 'Big Seven'. Interior Minister Eli Ishai, the main culprit in the mess, is included by virtue of his being Shas party leader. The Maarive newspaper carries a banner headline 'U.S. Wants Ishai Sacked!' Netanyahu is very unlikely to comply because Shas would bolt the coalition and perhaps precipitate the fall of his government.

Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

State President Shimon Peres has hinted at one possible way out to satisfy the Americans. While stating the need to repair relations with the U.S. as soon as possible, Peres also noted that all Israeli governments since 1967 have built in the Jewish areas of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line. In other words, until now Israeli governments have refrained from housing projects inside the numerous Arab quarters of east Jerusalem. It should be noted that Ramat Shlomo, at the nub of the current confrontation, is located at the northern tip of 'Jewish' Jerusalem near the Jewish neighborhood of Ramot. It does not impinge on 'Arab' East Jerusalem. In light of this, was the wily State President advising Netanyahu to make a commitment to this effect - that Israel would not build housing units adjacent to Arab neighborhoods? (Netanyahu has been in contact with Peres apparently seeking his advice). However, there is a problem. Such a commitment would signal Netanyahu's de facto recognition that the Palestinians also have a role in Jerusalem and would subsequently get it on the negotiating agenda. Netanyahu's Right-wing coalition partners and a sizable part of the ruling Likud party would be up in arms and Netanyahu would take massive flak and a big political risk. At Camp David 2000, the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a partition of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat which was never accepted. In 2008, before leaving office, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a similar Jerusalem arrangement that also went unanswered.

Benyamin Netanyahu

Meanwhile, the public furor inside Israel rages without letup. Netanyahu's brother-n-law Dr Hagai Ben Artzi, one of the Prime Minister's most acerbic critics, has even accused Obama of being an anti-Semite. Within minutes the Prime Minister's office issued a total disclaimer condemning the remarks. On the other hand, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has warned: 'Any tear in the fabric of Israel's ties with the U.S. impacts on our national security' .

Whatever the outcome, one ponders why President Barack Obama has consistently refrained from addressing the Iranian nuclear threat with the same sense of urgency and determination as he has to the apparently unintentional bureaucratic screw-up during t the Biden visit.

David Essing

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