Israeli settlements standoff with US: Netanyahu fails to defuse tensions
Two weeks after Israeli settlements touched off unusually high tensions with Israel's closest ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads home from Washington without a resolution.
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Back home in Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai – whose ministry announced the 1,600 new housing units – told a newspaper of his ultra-religious political party, Shas, that the government would not agree to a building freeze in Jerusalem.Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile, other pro-settlement groups in Israel issued statements on Thursday congratulating Netanyahu for a "firm'' stance toward the Obama administration.
"Israel stands firmly at Prime Minister Netanyahu's side as he feels the full weight brought to bear by Barack Obama,'' said the main settler lobby, the Yesha Council, in a statement today.
US officials have to 'stand their ground'
Commentators in the mainstream media however, are portraying Netanyahu's visit as ill-prepared and a disaster.
"The prime minister rejoiced all the way to the meeting, without suspecting that he was walking into a fools’ trap,'' wrote Ben Caspit in the daily Maariv newspaper. Mr. Caspit wrote that Netanyahu – known here by his nickname, Bibi – was humiliated by the Americans. "Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.''
Israeli MP Eitan Cabel, a member of the Labor Party, which is part of Netanyahu's coalition, told the Associated Press: "Netanyahu decided to spit into Obama's eye... he and his pyromaniac ministers insist on setting the Middle East ablaze."
Israel's government is sending a message to the US and the international community that it wants to change the principles of previous negotiations, which assumed that the pre-1967 borders would serve as the basis for a territorial compromise, says Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East expert based in Tel Aviv.
But there's a growing consensus that after yielding to Netanyahu last year on his demand to freeze settlement construction, President Obama – who, in a landmark speech from Cairo in June 2009 told the Muslim world that the US "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" – can't afford to back down again.
"They [US officials] have to stand their ground, especially in front of other Middle Eastern countries,'' says Mr. Javedanfar.
After senior military officials under Gen. David Petraeus warned the Pentagon's top brass that US lives were at stake if Israel could not be persuaded to make concessions to the Palestinians, Mr. Biden conveyed that message to his hosts on his recent Israel visit.
"The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism," wrote the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.