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Netanyahu faces 'difficult choices' going into AIPAC speech

Going into his AIPAC speech today, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces stern US warnings, Palestinian exasperation, and a fractious coalition government and rising violence back home.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer / March 22, 2010


Monday's speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to AIPAC – Washington's largest pro-Israel lobby – comes as the US-Israel relationship has been on unusually rocky ground. Palestinian groups have seemed on the verge of a third intifada or uprising against Israel, and the world is waiting to see whether the leaders will go forward with renewed talks.

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With all of this hanging in the balance, Mr. Netanyahu faces a meeting on Tuesday with President Obama.

Back home, Netanyahu faces a fractious, right-leaning cabinet, many of whose members don't share his vows to bring about a two-state solution, the threat of more clashes in the West Bank and the possibility of renewed rocket fire from Gaza.

That makes his audience today far greater than just those gathered at AIPAC's yearly conference, with many around the world closely watching how he will balance the competing demands of interested parties.

"He's meant to please everybody, isn't he?" quips Peter Medding, an expert on the US-Israel relationship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"My guess is that he will say nothing that offends his coalition partners back home, nor that offends the American administration," says Medding, noting that Mr. Obama's team has asked him to reaffirm his commitment to the two-state solution after plans emerged for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. "But we have to distinguish between words and actions. Netanyahu will make a public statements in Washington that won't offend anyone, and that will give hope to Israelis and Palestinians. But what is he actually agreeing to do once he arrives home?"

Netanyahu's 'difficult but necessary choices'

On the eve of his trip, a Netanyahu aide outlined the key points of the prime minister's speech. These include a commitment to moving forward in peace talks with an aim of achieving Palestinian statehood, taking "courageous steps for peace," and a series of confidence-building measures, the aide said.

Netanyahu, however, reiterated his refusal to limit building in East Jerusalem in comments he made Sunday just before his trip to Washington.

He told his cabinet that building in Jerusalem, where Palestinians envision the capital of their future state, was the same as building in Tel Aviv. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 following its conquering in the Middle East, an extension of sovereignty that no other major power recognizes, including the United States.

Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear in her speech to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that the US views Israel's decision to build in East Jerusalem as an obstacle to peace talks.

"New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need," Clinton said. "It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit." Clinton added that peace will "require all parties, including Israel, to make difficult but necessary choices."