American and British newspapers have addressed the recent dispute between the US and Israel from a variety of angles ranging from commentaries on the failure of US policy and anger within the White House to the pressure Israel is currently experiencing and threats to US interests in the region, especially as regards the Iranian issue.
Failed US policy
In its editorial, the Washington Post reported that US President Barack Obama’s efforts at diplomacy in the Middle East had failed because he’d entered into an unnecessary and insurmountable public confrontation with Israel over its settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The paper warned that such confrontation and public criticism of Israel would increase the inflexibility of the Palestinians and the Arabs in their demands, rather than encourage them to take part in peace talks. As a result, they will wait for unilateral steps by Israel under American pressure.
According to the paper, harsh techniques always fail with Israel. Moreover, Israelis perceive Obama’s demands as unprecedented and ignore the hardening of the Palestinian and Arab leaders’ positions. Should the demand to freeze the 1600 residential units reinforce this image; it will produce the opposite effect to what the Americans want.
In other sections of the Post, US officials were quoted as saying that the Obama administration is currently putting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to back down from his approval to build 1600 residential units in East Jerusalem. In this way, he would be making a grand gesture to the Palestinians, and publicly declaring that the “core issues” in the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem will be the focus of future talks.
The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, informed Netanyahu during a telephone call on Friday about these three demands, but the Department did not disclose the fact.
Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expect that Israel will respond to these demands on Tuesday. Their response is being considered the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the relationship between the United States and Israel. A senior official said “We want to guarantee no repeat of such things.” He said, “If Netanyahu is not willing to make such a commitment, it would raise questions over his commitment to negotiations, and would raise doubts about his commitment to the relationship between Tel Aviv and Washington”.
The official said that the Obama administration views the success of Middle East peace talks as essential to the interests of national security. Therefore, Netanyahu’s refusal to adopt the talks will be negatively received.
Israeli officials say that Netanyahu would be in political danger if he retreats from the latest settlement decision, and it is not clear whether he has the legal authority to rescind the construction decision issued by the Regional Planning Committee.
The newspaper indicated that the good will gesture required of Israel toward the Palestinians may take several forms such as the release of prisoners or the restoration of parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control.
Under the headline “Israel feels a growing American discontent”, The New York Times reported that the bad timing of the announcement on settlement building in Jerusalem turned into the most serious conflict between America and Israel for two decades. It has also prompted a politically embarrassed Israeli government, to respond to a list of harsh US demands.
The New York Times pointed out that the Obama administration has put Netanyahu in a difficult political position at the domestic level by insisting that the Israeli government halt the decision on new construction.
The paper said that the strength of feeling among officials in Washington indicated that the Netanyahu government was not fully aware of the growing discontent within the Obama administration. Nevertheless, some analysts question the ability of this administration to extract more concessions from Netanyahu.
The paper described the timing of the crisis as ‘the worst’ in that it comes a week before the meeting of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee – Israel’s most loyal group in Washington.
The Wall Street Journal dealt with this issue from a different angle; the view that the American-Israeli dispute could threaten American plans to contain Iran and achieve US security objectives in the Middle East.
According to officials in America and the Middle East, the growing American-Israeli conflict could threaten Obama’s campaign to act on “an important issue: the imposition of new sanctions on Tehran”. Arab governments have linked their support for such sanctions with progress in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The newspaper pointed out that the US Department of Defence (the Pentagon) has expressed concern about the impact of the deadlock in the peace process on US security interests in the Middle East. Officials in the Department of Defence say that the lack of progress in peace hampers US efforts to persuade the oil-rich countries to use their economic leverage on China to persuade Beijing to support sanctions against Iran.
Doubts on the strategic value
Britain’s Times newspaper published an article by Richard Beeston, under the title “For the first time there are voices questioning the strategic value of Israel” in which he attempted to pose some of the questioning being asked in the Arab world and even by some US leaders about Israel’s strategic value to America.
Beeston asserts that when sat around any table in the Arab world, debate will inevitably turns to talk about a permanent puzzle in the region; the secret behind absolute American support for Israel. According to him, the prevailing answer to this quandary for many in the region lies with the Jewish lobby in America and its impact on the US administrations.
The writer mentioned that it was the first time that the elevated voices of American leaders were heard wondering about the importance of Israel, including the military commander David Petraeus. In reference to Israeli actions, with more than two hundred thousand US troops in the Arab and Islamic world, Washington is ready to confront anyone who threatens the lives of their children.
In any case, the writer points out that history has shown that Washington may intervene if the Americans feel that their interest is at stake, as it did in the Suez crisis, when it sensed that Israel’s actions were threatening US interest.
Beeston hoped that Obama’s upcoming visit to the most populous Muslim country in the world – Indonesia, would be an opportunity to reach out to the Muslim world and heal the wounds caused by the events of 11 September 2001. As such, Obama needs to know the extent of Israel’s commitment to peace so as to facilitate and not complicate his mission.
In The Independent, a report entitled “Obama’s patience with Israel is running out” asserts that Netanyahu will defend his decision on settlement and will face up to US pressure despite relations between the two countries having reached the worst political crisis in three decades.
The newspaper quoted the Palestinian leader, Nabil Shaath, as saying that the possibilities of resuming negotiations have been hampered because of Israel’s conduct. The day before reconciliation dialogue with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Shaath said that steps toward the Judaisation of Jerusalem being taken by Israel were proceeding at a pace never before witnessed in the history of the peace process. He stressed that the Palestinian Authority would not grant cover to the Netanyahu government by entering into negotiations as it continues with its settlement policies.
The Guardian newspaper quotes a source in the Obama administration as saying that the White House and the State Department intend to push Israel toward real peace talks with the Palestinians. It has also been asserted that on this occasion, the US does not intend to hold back, as it did last September.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.