Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sparring begins between Obama and Netanyahu

Several weeks ago President Barack Obama cautioned democratic representatives in Congress that disputes may arise in the near future between his administration and that of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The sparring has already seemingly begun. Earlier this week, the Obama administration voiced its opposition to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that Palestinian negotiators recognize Israel as a Jewish state before negotiations resume. Israeli Defense Minister and Labor party leader Ehud Barak is also opposed to Netanyahu's precondition for talks.

Unlike former President George W. Bush, Obama has pledged to "deeply engage" in Middle East diplomacy, perhaps to the ire of some of Israel's rightist leaders. Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermen have had few kind words for the American president, with Liebermen even reminding Obama's envoy George Mitchell that previous peacemaking efforts have failed (as if Mitchell was unaware that his post existed for that very reason).

It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks if either Obama or Netanyahu confronts his counterpart directly over policy disagreements. Netanyahu has not voiced his intention to pursue final status negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but has instead advocated for discussing only economic or security issues with the crippled Palestinian Authority. The Israeli PM campaigned promising to pursue "economic peace," a belief that increased economic development in the Palestinian territories will bring about a more peaceful situation. While not opposed to this notion, President Obama has advocated for more direct negotiations that do confront the issue of Palestinian statehood and a conclusion to the conflict. Palestinian leaders have been unequivocal in dismissing the concept of "economic peace" as Israeli unwillingness to accept a Palestinian state.

More from Reuters here.

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