Published by “The Australian” on March 19, 2010: “Benjamin Netanyahu and aides in desperate effort to appease US.”
by John Lyons | Middle East Correspondent.
Israel’s inner cabinet is trying to formulate a response that will satisfy the Obama administration as a way to restart the Middle East peace process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held marathon meetings with the six most powerful ministers to come up with a course of action that will satisfy the US, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a 43-minute phone call this week between Mrs Clinton and Mr Netanyahu, a fiery Secretary of State demanded that Israel reply to questions following the visit to Israel of US Vice-President Joe Biden.
The deliberations with the six ministers – Avigdor Lieberman, Eli Yishai, Ehud Barak, Moshe Yaalon, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin – came as US President Barack Obama denied a crisis, saying:
“We and the Israeli people have a special bond that’s not going to go away. But friends are going to disagree sometimes… there is a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward,” he said, urging Israelis and Palestinians to rebuild trust.
Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan, a leading figure in the Fatah faction opposed to the Hamas faction, called on Hamas to “join a collective battle rather than settle for calling on the Palestinians to prepare for an intifada in the West Bank”.
Israel’s media yesterday had conflicting reports about the reception Mr Netanyahu is likely to receive next week when he travels to the US to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a Jewish lobby group.
The newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that US officials had refused to schedule any key meetings for Mr Netanyahu unless they received “satisfactory” answers from Israel to the demands by Mrs Clinton. The paper said the US might arrange key meetings for Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who will address AIPAC, as “revenge” on Mr Netanyahu.
Yedioth said some ministers saw this as an attempt by the US to guarantee an extension of the 10-month freeze in the West Bank while others believed the US wanted to drive a wedge between Mr Netanyahu and the right wing of his government in the hope to see his administration fall.
The US was upset that in the middle of Mr Biden’s visit to Israel last week Israel’s Interior Ministry announced a 1600-apartment development for Jewish housing in disputed East Jerusalem.
Mrs Clinton appeared to be upset that she was yet to receive a response from Mr Netanyahu to her phone call.
US State Department officials have said they expect a “formal” response. It is believed one demand Mrs Clinton made was that the new development be shelved.
Israel has imposed a 10-month freeze on new building approvals in the West Bank, but says Jerusalem is not a settlement and will not be subject to limitations on development by Jews or Arabs.