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Obama Imposing Israeli-Palestinian Agreement?

Prime Minister Netanyahu Begins High Level Consultations By Declaring There Has Been No Change In Israel's Building Policy In Jerusalem

Israel's 'Big Seven' May Accept Most Obama Demands But Not On Agreeing To Freeze All Building Beyond Old 1967 Line

IsraCast: Obama Appears To Be Dictating Terms To Israel On Palestinian Peace - Will U.S. President Also Make Similar Demands On Palestinians About Refugees Not Returning To Israel?

Barack Obama

 Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has started consultations with six other members of his top level security cabinet on a reply to U.S. President Barack Obama's demands. At their White House meetings, Obama called on Israel to halt all building in east Jerusalem as well as making other reported concession in order to start proximity talks with the Palestinians under American aegis. Defense Minister Ehud Barak Reportedly Called For Accepting Most Obama Demands Except On Jerusalem. IsraCast: Netanyahu Will Require Obama Commitment On Palestinian Concessions In Order To Sell His Compromises To Israeli Public

 Israel is reeling from the shock of what appears to be an overt attempt by U.S. President Barack Obama to impose a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not just the proverbial 'gathering storm' - the Obama gale has arrived and is pummeling the Jewish state. Obama, brimming with self-confidence and his adrenalin running high, after his monumental victory in slugging it out with his fierce opponents to his revolutionary health plan, has faced Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu with some very hard, perhaps impossible choices. The Israeli leader never knew what hit him when he was ushered so humiliating into the White House. However, the 'writing was on the wall' and should not have come as such a startling surprise. It was clear from the first Obama-Netanyahu meeting certainly from the new American leader's Cairo address that this was an entirely new ball game. (It should be noted, that love him or hate him, Obama has also displayed the same forcefulness by escalating the war in Afghanistan). At the time, the IsraCast assessment was that the Obama administration, bent on improving relations with the Arab world, had decided to view Israeli settlements in general, and particularly in Jerusalem, as diametrically opposed to America's national security interests. This new ideological thrust in U.S. policy combined with a very assertive President and a new Right-wing coalition in Jerusalem had the makings of fireworks between Jerusalem and Washington. Yes, it is true that Obama has yet to display a similar boldness in confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.

Bibi Netanyahu

In the White House, Obama appears to have taken one of Bibi's own favorite sayings to the Palestinians and redirected it at the Israeli Prime Minister - 'If they'll give, they'll get!' The Israelis must dig deep on concessions to the Palestinians if they want the continued support of the U.S. Obama views the onus as being squarely on Israel and as the side that must start the ball rolling; Bibi's declaration of a two- state solution and a ten month suspension of settlement building on the West Bank while continuing in East Jerusalem does not go far enough. So what positions are the 'Big Seven' of Israeli cabinet ministers likely to adopt at the end of their crucial consultations? Will they agree to 'give' as demanded by the U.S. President? Previously, before hearing Netanyahu's full portrayal of what went on in Washington, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, not surprisingly told the Prime Minister he should hang tough. The Likud's Benny Begin and Moshe Yaalon as well as Eli Yishai of Shas are also hard liners who can be expected to reject any notion of compromising on Jerusalem. The Likud's Dan Meridor, who like another former Likudnik and now Kadima party leader Tzipi have turned dovish in recent years, can be expected to advise political prudence, whereas Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Labor is for compromising on Jerusalem. When the high level consultations got underway, the Prime Minister issued a statement that there is no change in Israeli building policy in Jerusalem that has been implemented by all Israeli governments over the past forty-two years. Netanyahu added that he was ready to consider further confidence building measures to improve relations with Palestinians in Judea & Samaria (West Bank).

Reportedly, the U.S. is demanding that Israel transfer the east Jerusalem quarter of Abu Dies, once touted as the Palestinian capital, to full Palestinian control.

The depth of Israeli-Jewish religious and national feeling over Jerusalem cannot be overestimated, not even by those Jews who choose to view it as akin to 'drunken driving'. Built by King David some 3,000 years ago it is the linchpin that has bound the people of Israel for centuries with the Land of Israel and the Almighty. Throughout the ages, Jewish children have been taught to memorize Psalm 137: 'If I forget thee O' Jerusalem , let my right hand lose its cunning!' The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin was fond of telling Americans of Jerusalem, DC... Jerusalem, David's City. It is out of the question that his son Benny Begin would ever agree to remain in a government that started comprising over Jerusalem. The ultra-orthodox party Shas would also be out the door and probably Avigdor Lieberman as well. Inside Netanyahu's Likud party, opponents would be manning the ramparts calling for the ousting of the Prime Minister.(Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was assassinated for less than compromising on Jerusalem).

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

So in the prevailing mood of the Right- wing Knesset, Obama's demand of a total building freeze in Jerusalem is one that Netanyahu cannot accept, even if he wanted to. And that's the reason the Prime Minister is talking about other confidence-building measures. Even former Prime Minister Ehud Barak who was prepared to partition Jerusalem at Camp David 2000 with Yasser Arafat reportedly told Obama's advisers in Washington that Obama's demand was a non-starter that would, at best, lead to political chaos in Israel. Conjecture that Netanyahu could jettison his Right-wing coalition for a more compromising Centrist cabinet with Kadima and Labor appears to be totally unrealistic at this stage. But will the Big Seven be able to hammer out some other concessions that may placate Obama or will he impose what many Israelis perceive as Machiavellian diktats. But in this vein, even the Prince's goals were to achieve a desired result and not simply to punish. Even this U.S. President must be given credit for trying to achieve Israeli- Palestinian peace which is said to be cornerstone for regional goals in Iran, the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bibi Netanyahu is caught on the horns of an excruciating dilemma, one similar to David Ben Gurion's acceptance of the limited Partition Plan of 1947 and Menachem Begin's bombing of Saddam Hussien's nuclear reactor in 1981. Begin's decision was in defiance of another U.S. President, Ronald Reagan who actually suspended the shipment of F-16 aircraft after supporting a UN Security Council condemnation of Israel. Later, America heaped praise on the Israeli air strike that prevented the Iraqi tyrant from acquiring the atomic bomb before Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

This time Israel is threatened with annihilation by a fanatical Moslem regime in Iran that has no qualms about massacring its own people in the streets. So what Israeli national interest should take priority. First, it is far from certain there is even a viable peace partner. Even West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas represents probably less than half of all the Palestinian people when Gaza and the refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are also tallied. For its part, Hamas in Gaza exploited Israel's unilateral withdrawal to convert the area into a total launch pad for rocketing Israel and there has been no let up in attacks from Gaza. However, Obama holds that Abbas is an honorable man and Netanyahu must make the painful compromises or risk America's wrath in the face of the Iranian nuclear threat. Even if Israel decides to go alone and repeat the Osirak air strike of 1981, she would still require a green light from the U.S.

By Netanyahu's own words, the greatest threat to the Jewish state is weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists or worse even worse into the hands of a terrorist regime. Not only Israel but also the Sunni Arab countries are aware of the peril posed by Iran and no longer view the Jewish state as a threat. Indeed there are indications that countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are worried that the U.S. is not doing enough to stop Iran and might even welcome an Israeli operation. Having said that, it can be said the U.S. is aware of the Iranian danger but also cope with the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan while securing the flow of Gulf oil to the Western world. Obama is demanding that Israel play her designated role in this regional mosaic. But if this means paying in Israeli coin, Israeli decision-makers will want to know if there is another side of the coin and whether the Palestinians will also be pressed into concessions not only by Obama, but by the other regional players from the Arab League. For example will the Palestinians also have to accept publicly that the refugees will not be returning to Haifa, Ramle etc. and will have to find permanent homes in the new state of Palestine or elsewhere, but not inside the Jewish state? The Palestinian leadership must tell their people and start educating their children about living in peace with their Jewish neighbors or as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat declared and lived up to his word about: 'No More War!'

But for the moment, Israel is in the hot seat. The impression is that Obama is telling Netanyahu and the Israeli people: 'Either accept my imposed terms for Palestinian peace or I will impose sanctions on the special relationship with Israel!' This has obviously enraged many Right-wing Israelis while some Left-wingers are saying 'it's not such a bad idea'. This current match-up, that began back in 1967 when the combined Arab armies also tried to wipe Israel off the map only for the Jewish state to emerge with victorious, has only just begun and it is impossible to foresee the outcome.

David Essing

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