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The tactical diplomatic battle still is ablaze between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The battle started under two prominent headlines: Iran and the political settlement between Israel and the Arabs, with a difference in the assessment of which one of these two headlines ought to take priority. Israel says that Iran ought to be the first subject of attention, and during this attention there is no need to examine the issue of settlement with the Palestinians. On the other hand, Washington says that Iran and the political settlement with the Palestinians are two faces of the same coin.

On the basis of this US configuration, Washington demanded that Netanyahu should adopt a collection of stances, the most prominent of which is the halting of settlement activities in Jerusalem. Within this debate there was a list of US demands that was conveyed officially to Israel together with a time limit to present the reply. This time limit is now over with the end of the Israeli festive season, and now is the time for giving the Israeli reply.

During this time limit, Israel launched a counter-media campaign that annoyed Obama. A series of Israeli statements flowed from Israel against Obama’s demand, statements that reached the level of a challenge. In a strongly-worded attack on the US Administration, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Dani Ayalon said: “Israel does not need advice from anyone whatsoever.” Netanyahu himself said in an interview with a US television network: “The US demand to freeze the building in Jerusalem is an impossible demand.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said addressing foreign ambassadors: “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, and it will not be re-partitioned.”

Then these Israeli political stances developed to something more sensitive and more indicative when Israel announced its boycott of the nuclear summit in Washington, to which Obama called, and from which Netanyahu was absent. The aim of the summit, according to Obama, is to form an international power, in which the Arabs participate, to exert pressure on Iran. The participation of the Arabs requires satisfying them by establishing a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians; at the same time Netanyahu refuses to go along with that settlement insisting that there is no link between Iran and the political settlement.

Then the second qualitative Israeli development in the confrontation with Obama emerged. It emerged through a media campaign within the United States itself. A campaign was initiated by Netanyahu himself when he started what Ha’aretz newspaper described as “recruiting Jewish US body corporate and Congress members to exert pressure on Obama.” Two prominent Jewish US citizens, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Eli Wiesel and World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder, published two big advertisements in which they called on the US Administration to stop exerting pressure on Israel, and they criticized the US Administration for holding Israel responsible for the resumption of the negotiations with the Palestinians. Ha’aretz commented on these paid advertisements by saying that they were an unwise step by Netanyahu, who is known by everyone to be behind this media campaign.

The same as Israel extended its hand inside the US political game, Washington reciprocated in the same way. Washington started to exert (democratic) internal pressure on the Netanyahu Government, one time calling for changing its policy, and another time calling for a change of the government coalition itself.

News from Israel domestic front reports that the group of Labor ministerial forum held a deep discussion of the issue of the ensuing crisis between the Netanyahu Government and the US Administration. The result of this discussion was that Ministers Binyamin Ben-Eli’ezer, Yitzhaq Herzog, and Avishay Braverman went to Labor Party Chairman Ehud Baraq and told him that if there is no political progress in the next few days, the Labor Party must consider seceding from the government or taking action to change the coalition and bring in Qadima (Tzipi Livni). Senior Labor Party officials noted that this was the first time since the establishment of the government that a discussion on the political freeze was held in the Labor ministerial forum. One of these senior officials said: “The main message from the discussion was that the current situation cannot continue.” Minister Ben-Eli’ezer warned against “Israel’s growing isolation on the international arena and the crisis with the United States will only boost the process of de-legitimizing Israel in the world.”

Ehud Baraq, chairman of the party, and defense minister in the government, responded to this proposal, and announced that he intended to go soon to Washington to hold talks there about the issue of peace. Baraq added: “There is an urgent need to strengthen relations with the United States and restore the full intimacy we have always enjoyed, even if this requires a change in the government’s policy or coalition.”

Because of this argument within the Israeli parties participating in the government coalition, political commentator Avraham Tirosh (Ma’ariv 21 Apr 2010) said: “The increasing dangers surrounding Israel are due to the presence of an Israeli Government that is not qualified to rid us of these dangers. Therefore, the only option now is to dismantle this government, at the initiative of the prime minister, and to form a more moderate government, i.e. a government that includes Likud, Qadima, and Labor so that this government would be able to resume the negotiations (with the Palestinians) even without Obama exerting any pressure on it.”

When the situation between the US Administration and the Netanyahu government reached this grave crisis, President Obama hastened to calm down the expected Israeli fears, and utilized the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel (according to the Hebrew Calendar) and addressed war greetings to Israel that included a declaration of complete support, and a categorical promise to continue the strategic alliance with it. Obama’s greetings to Israel included a talk about the land of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, a pledge to work to reach a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of two states for two peoples, and a pledge to stand against the powers that threaten Israel, the United States, and the world (i.e. Iran).

With regard to these warm greetings, it is said by those who suspect Obama’s stance that they were mere words, and it is also said by those supporting Obama’s stance that they were an indication of Obama’s intention to reach a deal with Netanyahu.

However, the most prominent thing that is noticed in all this tactical diplomatic battle between the two countries is that it is devoid of any talk about the demands of the Palestinian or Arab side. The Palestinians and Arabs are mentioned only in passing, but without being linked to any political definition or explanation. The most that is said is the call to halt the settlement activities, or halting them in Jerusalem, while keeping all the previous settlements as they are. There is no mention at all of the bases of the negotiations, the authority of the negotiations, or the international law, i.e. there is no mention at all of any authority that confirms the reality of the Israeli “occupation,” or the inevitability of ending this occupation, including the occupation of Jerusalem and the settlements. The result is that Israel is winning the US political support, and it does not pay in exchange anything other than continuing with the negotiations. As for the Arab side, its basic issues, the land, the settlements, Jerusalem, the water, the complete sovereignty, and the return of the refugees remain exposed to the negotiation bargaining, whose results are known in advance.

The US Administration exerts pressure on Israel in order to be “logical” in its political stance, but it is ignoring the demands of the Palestinians and the Arabs in a way that has nothing to do with logic. Thus, the same old US policy continues, but after overcoming one of those crises that take place among the members of the same family.

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

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