Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Israeli angst over PM's last-minute date with Obama

Jason Koutsoukis, Jerusalem
November 10, 2009 - 12:00AM

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under attack last night over his handling of Israel's relationship with its most important ally, the United States.

In Washington to address the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Mr Netanyahu was left looking embarrassed as he struggled to secure a meeting with US President Barack Obama.

When Mr Obama finally consented to meet Mr Netanyahu this morning [Melbourne time], White House aides let it be known that the US President felt the meeting was being imposed on him.

Mr Obama met Mr Netanyahu in September, when he hosted a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and reportedly believes there is no need to meet the Israeli leader again.

''This is not how the White House works,'' an Administration official was quoted as telling Israeli diplomats. ''We don't have to stand at attention when Netanyahu wants a meeting. There's no substantive reason to hold a meeting, particularly in light of the current political stalemate.''

Mr Obama has been frustrated since taking office at Israel's refusal to agree to freeze Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Instead, Mr Netanyahu has offered to restrain settlement construction in the West Bank during the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Morning newspapers in Israel carried headlines declaring that Israel's relationship with the US was in crisis.

''This is the conclusion that stems from the difficulty in arranging a meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama,'' wrote Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn.

''The delays in finding a time to meet, and pushing it to a late hour … make Netanyahu look as if Obama threw him a bone. In such circumstances, it is no longer important what will be said at the meeting.''

Writing in Maariv, columnist Ben Caspit wrote that the meeting was ''purely for protocol, barely a photo-op, so that it will not be said that Bibi was in the US and didn't see Obama. That is why the fiasco is so great. A chronicle of a disgrace foretold.''

Meanwhile Mr Abbas, who announced last week that he would not be standing for another term as head of the Palestinian Authority in elections scheduled for January 24, told supporters in the West Bank town of Hebron that Israel did not want peace.

''I don't know what the Israelis want,'' Mr Abbas said. ''They must start thinking about what needs to be done if they really want peace.''

He rejected claims that his call for a settlement freeze was a new precondition for joining talks with Israelis, insisting that he was simply calling for Israel to abide by its commitments.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/world/israeli-angst-over-pms-lastminute-date-with-obama-20091109-i5c7.html

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