TIME-MIDDLE EAST BLOG
Obama-Israel: A Widening Gap?
It was to be expected, especially with a right-wing prime minister assuming office in Israel, but the discordance between the Obama administration and the week-old Netanyahu government has become striking. What's interesting is that Obama's clashing with Israel involves not just right-wing Likud but the ex-Labor/Kadima elder statesman Shimon Peres as well. What it seems to mean is that both sides realize despite the strong U.S.-Israeli alliance and friendship that there is a gap emerging on two major issues, the path to a settlement with the Palestinians, and how to handle the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions. In general, Obama is in a hurry for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a final peace deal, and Israel is not; Obama is offering incentive carrots to the Iranian regime, while Israel prefers using sticks.
Before the start of the Persian New Year holiday Nowruz, Obama delivered a videotaped conciliatory message to the Iranian people and to the Iranian regime.
So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
In a gesture that may or may not have annoyed the White House, Peres, in his capacity as president of Israel, also delivered a surprise Nowruz message. It's tone and content completely contradicted Obama's message, in denouncing Iranian leaders and seeking to divide them from Iran's people.
To our great sadness, relations between our countries are at their lowest point. This derives from the leaders of your country, who are driven to act in every way possible against the State of Israel and its people, and even to threaten us with their intention to destroy us. I ask myself how a noble people like you can be caught up in a blind hatred like this, how you chose a leader who scorns the people who were murdered by the Nazis, and who wants to destroy and kill another country. You believe in God, and we believe in God, but in a God of life and respect, not a God of death and hate...We are certain and hopeful that the darkness and the evil will disappear from the world for the good of all of humanity. On the occasion of the new year, I turn to the noble Iranian people in the name of the ancient Jewish people, and I wish that they will return to reclaim their rightful place amongst the enlightened nations of the world.
A more in-your-face rejection of Obama's Middle East policies came from Netanyahu foreign miniser Avigdor Lieberman. At his swearing-in ceremony on April 1, Lieberman confirmed Israel's adherence to the step-by-step Road Map but categorically rejected continuing Israel's talks with Palestinian leaders on establishing a Palestinian state in the process launched at Bush's Annapolis peace conference in November 2007.
There is one document that obligates us - and that's not the Annapolis conference, it has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did Knesset.
Obama didn't get Lieberman's memo. In his landmark address to the Muslim world in Turkey this week, he reiterated that the U.S. expected Israelis and Palestinians to continue the Annapolis process.
Let me be clear: 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 goodwill around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as president of the United States.
The next day, Lieberman effectively suggested that Obama was out of touch.
We must understand and admit that we are at a dead end... I don't see the logic...to skip directly to negotiations over a final agreement, to give up all our demands of the other side.
NOTE: The MIDDLE EAST BLOG is a blog from TIME Magazine offering news and analysis of the latest developments in the region. It is written by Tim McGirk, Scott MacLeod, and Andrew Lee Butters.