Wednesday, May 6, 2009

U.S.-Israeli "special relationship" damaged by Iran factor

by David Harris

JERUSALEM, May 6 (Xinhua) -- The traditionally warm ties between the United States and Israel have been strained since U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both came into office earlier this year. The tension has increased with an apparent difference of opinion on linkage between the Palestinian issue and Iran's nuclear program.

While the two subjects are seemingly unrelated, the Netanyahu government has made clear it sees Iran as the number-one topic that needs tackling immediately. However, the Obama administration argues the two issues must be dealt with simultaneously.

Washington's bid to smooth ruffled feathers went into full gear on Tuesday, when Obama hosted his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peresat the White House. Later this month he will also meet Netanyahu.

As Peres was meeting Obama, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and other officials, the United States was making clear what it expects of Israel on the nuclear front.

Following the Obama-Peres parley, the White House issued a statement which included reference to an exchange of views "on the opportunities and challenges, including the pursuit of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and Iran's nuclear program that the present moment presents to achieving our countries' shared goal of peace and security for Israel and all of its neighbors."

"When Netanyahu meets Obama, he will ask him, and justifiably so, 'you say it's advantageous to build relations with Iran. How?'" said former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

"I don't think Obama has clear answers," said the professor, who is currently vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace in Spain.

Believing that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, the Netanyahu government wants to see Washington pushing for stricter sanctions against Tehran. Ben-Ami and other Middle East watchers say that is the best Israel can hope for from the United States.

"I don't see the Obama administration opting for military action against Iran," said Ben-Ami. "If the last U.S. administration didn't go for it and specifically told Israel not to attack Iran, then I can't see it happening under Obama."

Meanwhile, speaking at the third session of the preparatory committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said on Tuesday her government expects Israel to join the NPT.

Universal adherence to the NPT itself -- including by India, Israel, Pakistan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- also remains a fundamental objective of the United States, she said during the gathering at UN headquarters in New York.

This is part of the carrot and stick operation which analysts believe Obama is using in dealing with Israel; the carrot being sanctions against Iran.

As Israel continues to stress the Iranian theme, the Palestinians are urging Washington to push the Palestinian conflict to the top of the agenda.

"I am not criticizing Obama's suggestion (of dealing with the Iranian and Palestinian tracks at the same time) but we as Palestinians feel ours is a very important conflict and resolving it will help pacify the region a lot," said Muhammad Dajani, a political scientist at the Palestinian Al-Quds University.

"If there's calm here, it will lead to negotiations around the Middle East and help with the dialogue with the Iranians," said Dajani, adding that Palestinians are of the opinion that Netanyahuhas adopted the Iran-first argument as "a way to buy time to further establish the occupation."

However, Ben-Ami does not believe Netanyahu is deliberately trying to create disagreements with Obama as a time-wasting exercise or for any other reason.

"The Israel of Netanyahu is not heading for confrontation with Obama," he said.

In order for that to be the case, Netanyahu will have to at least give some lip service to compromise when in Washington later this month.

Biden has already made clear the U.S. policy agenda regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He chose to do so on Tuesday when he attended the annual conference of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main pro-Israel lobby in the United States.

While talking of the "bond" between Israel and the United States and advocating the Arab world makes "real gestures," he also called on Israel to "not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians' freedom of movement...This is a 'show me' deal -- not based on faith -- show me," he said.
Source : China view

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