Israel - A Fit Case Of Dog's Tail Story

. 6/5/09

Israel will not heed President Barack Obama's powerful appeal to halt all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, officials said Friday, a position that looks sure to cause a policy clash with its most powerful ally.

The government plans to allow construction inside existing West Bank settlements to accommodate for growing families, said the officials.

In an address to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday, Obama said the United States does not recognize the legitimacy of the settlements and called on Israel to halt construction there. Obama also appealed to the Palestinians to renounce violence.

During a visit to Germany on Friday, the U.S. leader renewed his call for Israel to halt settlement activity in the West Bank, saying that he recognized the politics involved in Israel that made it difficult to accomplish this task. He also pressed his call for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, saying: "The moment is now for us to act."

Both positions are in conflict with Israel's new leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to endorse Palestinian statehood or accept a settlement freeze.

Israel issued a carefully worded response hours after Obama's Cairo speech saying it hoped his words would help usher in a "new period of reconciliation" in the Middle East. The response left out any reference to settlements or other issues that are putting Israel at odds with Washington.

The government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to go beyond the formal response, said that instead of halting all settlement activity, Israel planned to take down 22 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank in the coming weeks.

That balancing act — taking down outposts while pressing ahead with so-called "natural growth" construction in the settlements — is not likely to go over well in Washington.

U.S. officials have made it clear they want all settlement activity to stop, without exception.

Most likely, Netanyahu will be forced to choose between going along with Obama's Mideast vision, and risk a crisis in his rightist governing coalition, or rejecting it, and risk alienating Israel's most important ally.

"Benjamin Netanyahu will have to come to a decision soon. It's either 'yes' to Obama or 'no' to Obama," wrote columnist Ben Caspit in the Israeli daily Maariv on Friday.

So far there is little indication Netanyahu will answer "yes."

"With all due respect to President Obama, and there is respect, and to the deep friendship between Israel and the United States, no foreign leader of another country will set policy in Judea and Samaria," lawmaker Ofir Akonis of Netanyahu's Likud Party told Army Radio. Judea and Samaria are the Hebrew terms used for the West Bank.

Obama himself is being careful to avoid an open clash with Israel. In his speech, which was designed to heal rifts between the U.S. and the Muslim world, Obama described America's ties to Israel as "unbreakable."

He also issued an impassioned plea for Palestinians to halt violence and condemned Holocaust denial.

In an interview with six reporters from Muslim regions and one from Israel following his Cairo speech, Obama said Netanyahu's credentials as a conservative could actually help the cause of peace.

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot cited Obama as saying that Netanyahu could be given opportunities that a more leftist leader would not. The Palestinian daily Al Ayyam reported that Obama compared the situation to the anti-Communist Nixon opening relations with China.

For their part, Palestinian officials praised Obama's speech but urged him to back it with action.

"Words are good, but change requires deeds," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. He said Obama should come up with a new peace plan "with timelines, monitors and mechanisms for implementation."

Despite unease in Israel over Obama's overtures to the Muslim world, enthusiasm was also evident.

In the liberal daily Haaretz, former lawmaker Yossi Sarid called Obama's speech "the most important of the decade."

Sarid imagined rushing to the phone to call Netanyahu, telling him: "This beautiful young man, Barack Hussein Obama, he's the man. He's the greatest. You don't have a chance in a face-off with him."

Poll shows Israelis divided over Obama demands
Israeli voters are divided on whether the Jewish state should accede to U.S. President Barack Obama's demand to stop settlement building and accept a Palestinian state, a newspaper poll showed on Friday.

In answer to the question: "Should Israel accept Obama's demands or reject them and risk sanctions?" 40 percent of respondents said Israel should be prepared to risk Washington's wrath and not heed Obama's call, made in Egypt on Thursday.

Fifty-six percent said Israel should fall into line with U.S. demands. That number, however, would be likely to include people from the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Arabs and who generally favour Palestinian statehood and oppose settlement building in the West Bank.

In tackling the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Obama said Israel should accept the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it and must halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

He also called on Palestinians to abandon violence and urged the Hamas Islamist group to acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

Obama made the remarks during an address to the world's more than 1 billion Muslims in Cairo on Thursday where he called for a "new beginning" in ties between Washington and the Islamic world.

At odds with Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said construction would continue in existing settlements and has not publicly endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In explaining the poll in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, correspondent Sima Kadmon said: "Pride is an honourable trait, but not at the expense of a dispute with the master."

The poll queried 501 respondents representing a cross-section of the Israeli population. It said 53 percent thought Obama's policies towards Israel were bad, while 26 percent said they were positive.

It also showed that Israelis are about equally divided on Netanyahu's performance as prime minister since his right-leaning coalition took power in March, with 47 percent saying he is succeeding and 45 percent saying he is failing in office.
Source: AFP & Reuters

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