/ 6 April 2010

Israel clings to uneasy friendship with US

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to smooth over a breach in relations with the United States this week by speaking out against unnamed confidants who described Barack Obama as pro-Palestinian and Israel’s “greatest disaster”.

This followed Netanyahu’s fraught visit to Washington last week, where he held a long but low-key meeting with Obama that ended in sharp disagreement.

Israeli reports said the US was pressing Israel to freeze settlement construction in East Jerusalem and extend a temporary, partial curb on West Bank settlement building. But Netanyahu has shown no sign of bowing to pressure. A senior Cabinet minister was reported yesterday saying the US demands were unacceptable.

The Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, sparked Netanyahu’s anger by quoting an unnamed Netanyahu confidant saying Obama and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton had “adopted a patently Palestinian line. We’re talking about something that is diseased and insane,” the source told the paper. “We have a problem with a very, very hostile administration. There’s never been anything like this before.

“This president wants to establish the Palestinian state and he wants to give them Jerusalem — You could say Obama is the greatest disaster for Israel.”

Netanyahu admitted to his Cabinet on Monday that “there are matters that we [he and Obama] have yet to agree on”. But he described the comments in the Yedioth as “anonymous, unworthy”.

“Relations between Israel and the US are those between allies and friends,” Netanyahu said.

In the US there was a similar effort to ease the rift. Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said the US had a “deep, abiding interest in Israel’s security”. Despite the low-key meeting with Netanyahu, which ended without a joint statement or customary photographed handshake, Axelrod told CNN: “There was no snub intended. This was a working meeting among friends.”

Washington spent much of last year trying to persuade Netanyahu to halt all settlement construction as a prelude to restarting peace talks with the Palestinians for the first time since Israel’s war in Gaza. But Netanyahu agreed only to a partial 10-month curb of settlement building.

The dispute erupted again earlier this month when Israeli officials approved 1 600 new settler homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by the US vice-president, Joe Biden. —