JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he will return to the US on Monday, to take part in President Barack Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit, just three weeks after he met with Obama in a meeting widely characterized as extremely difficult.
Beyond meeting Obama at a reception for the more than 40 leaders from around the world who are expected at the two-day gathering, no one-on-one meeting is scheduled between the two men.
Nor, one government official said, is there a sense of great pressure inside the Prime Minister’s Office for Netanyahu to provide the US with responses to demands that were presented him during his meeting with Obama two weeks ago.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, said he did not feel Israel was obliged to give any written response at all to the US demands, which included a four-month moratorium on Jewish building in east Jerusalem, an extension of the 10-month housing-start moratorium in the West Bank, confidence-building measures to the Palestinians, and an agreement to deal with the core issues of Jerusalem, refugees and borders in indirect proximity talks.
“I don’t think we need to give any written responses,” Lieberman said in an Israel Radio interview. “I don’t know why everyone thinks Israel has to present a report where we explain ourselves. I think the government of Israel’s position is clear.”
Lieberman said Israel had already made enough gestures toward the Palestinian Authority and that it was now the PA’s turn to reciprocate.
Among the Israeli gestures he numbered were Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, where he accepted a two-state solution; the housing-start moratorium in the West Bank; allowing Fatah to convene a meeting in Bethlehem last year; and removing numerous IDF roadblocks.
Instead of receiving a “positive incentive” in return for these steps, Lieberman said, “all we got were more demands, more pressure and more requests.”
Responding to questions on whether this position would not lead to further strain in ties with Washington, Lieberman said, “We as a state need to understand that as long as we want to remain an independent country, we need to demonstrate an ability to withstand pressure.
“We cannot give up our sovereignty; we are talking about our sovereignty as an independent state,” he said. “I don’t know a state in the world that would agree to any limitation on construction in its capital. This is completely unacceptable, and therefore, there are periods when you have to demonstrate determination and also an ability to withstand pressure.”
While on the surface, Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Obama’s summit seemed obvious, it was preceded by deliberations about whether his attendance at a conference focusing on the nuclear issue and attended by countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be beneficial.
One of the arguments in favor of going to the conference was simply that when the president of the US extends an invitation, one accepts it.
The prime minister will be accompanied by Shaul Horev, director-general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and National Security Council head Uzi Arad.
Although the conference is an attempt to secure all loose nuclear material within four years, and to keep this material – believed to be enough to build more than 100,000 nuclear bombs – out of the hands of terrorist organizations, it will inevitably also focus on Iran.
As such, another of the arguments in favor of attending was that Netanyahu should be at a forum where critical decisions might be made on Iran – perhaps regarding what types of sanctions to impose on the country if it does not halt its nuclear march.
Also, Netanyahu has been one of the leading voices in recent years calling for concerted international action to keep nuclear material out of the hands of non-state actors such as terrorist organizations – the main theme of the summit.
On the other side of the pro-con ledger, one main argument against participation was that Netanyahu’s presence at an international forum dealing with nuclear issues would inevitably draw attention to Israel’s own reported nuclear arsenal, as well as its policy of ambiguity on whether it has nuclear weapons.
Countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia will certainly – as they do regularly at international nuclear forums – shine the spotlight on Israel and a perceived imbalance: Why is the world so keen on stopping Iran’s nuclear development program, but silent in the face of Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal?
One government official said Netanyahu’s decision to attend, despite this likely scenario, had been made because key issues affecting Israel would be discussed there, and it was important for the Jewish state’s voice to be heard – as well as the realization that Israel’s reported nuclear capacity would be an issue whether Netanyahu participated in the meeting or not.
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