TEL AVIV, Israel— Despite dramatic differences in policy and emphasis between President Barack Obama and incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, veteran Israeli policymaker Moshe Arens believes the two leaders will get along.
“There have been differences between Jerusalem and Washington before,” the former Israeli defense minister told Newsmax in an interview in Tel Aviv. “But our relationship is built on a very solid foundation, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be solid.”
Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said last Thursday that Israel would suspend the negotiation of “final status” issues -- the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees and the city of Jerusalem – until the Palestinians take verifiable steps to stop terrorist attacks against Israel.
Lieberman said that the new government would “not be bound” by any decisions taken at the November 2007 summit of U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Annapolis, which called for “final status” talks. Instead, they would stick to the “road map” initially proposed by President George W. Bush in 2003.
On Monday, President Obama appeared to publicly chastise the new Israeli government during a press conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara.
"Let me be clear,” Obama said. “The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of good will around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president."
Former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens thinks Obama is fighting a losing battle on this one.
“Both Netanyahu and Lieberman are obligated to the road map. That is pretty clear. But they accept it as did the original government that accepted it, the Sharon government, with 14 reservations. The most important of these is the total eradication of Palestinian terrorism, which has not happened.”
Obama’s statement in Ankara prompted a sharp retort from Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), who told reporters in Jerusalem later on Monday, “Israel does not take orders from Obama.”
"In voting for [Prime Minister Binjamin] Netanyahu the citizens of Israel have decided that they will not become the US's fifty first state,” Erdan explained. Then he added, "Obama is a friend of Israel and the United States is an important ally and everything between us will be the result of communication."
Former defense minister Arens told Newsmax that the desire for change in Israel in the recent election was as strong as it was in America – but in a very different direction.
“Clearly, the Israeli public wants a change of direction. So it’s normal that the policies of Mr. Olmert and of Livni [former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni] are being rejected by the new government. They were rejected by the Israeli people.”
Arens was specifically referring to the Annapolis agreement, which calls for Israel to set aside its reservations about Palestinian terror to negotiate the final status of a Palestinian state.
The new Israeli government will also press the Obama administration to recommit to “defensible borders” for Israel, a phrase first used by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just one month before he was assassinated in November 1995.
In 2004, when Israel was on the verge of a unilateral pullout from Gaza, then prime minister Ariel Sharon traveled to Washington to exact a political concession from President Bush in exchange for the pullout, which Washington wanted.
The concession came in the form of a letter from Bush, dated April 14, 2004, which clarified America’s commitment to “defensible borders” for Israel.
Sharon explained to the Israeli Knesset that the letter contained “American acknowledgement that in any final status agreement there will be no Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 lines.”
In other words, even in the “final status” talks, when they occur, the United States is committed to helping Israel retain control over certain border regions with its neighbors, to prevent the flow of arms and terrorists into the new Palestinian state.
“Were Israel to abandon its rights to “defensible borders” and pull out of the Jordan Valley that separates the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” writes former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, it would enable “a massive flow of weapons and volunteers to reach militant groups in the West Bank,” just as happened after Israel’s pullout from Gaza in 2005.
Dore Gold recently published a monograph on Israel’s need for defensible borders and is a close advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Israeli media has speculated that he will soon be appointed to become the next Israeli ambassador to Washington.
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