Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama Admin to Netanyahu: "You're on the clock"

By, Frederick C Butler, CNI Communications Director

WASHINGTON, DC (June 12, 2009)- Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be delivering a speech addressing the peace process and outlining his plans for the future of Israel. Counter to President Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, the address will take place after a weeklong public debate over settlement expansion, the legitimacy of Obama's support for Israel, and reports surfacing about alleged deadlines for peace proposals.

The Israeli Prime Minister will have a tough act to follow -not because of the daunting challenge of having to match Obama's soaring rhetoric, but the arduous task of having to match the President's soaring demands.

Prior to departing for his trip to Egypt Obama made a guest appearance at a meeting between National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the meeting the President reportedly told Netanyahu's Defense Minister that he is giving the Israeli leadership until July 1st to submit a proposal outlining their six-month plan for peace.

But, on June 8th Ha'aretz reported that Obama submitted a two-year peace plan which he is giving the Israeli Prime Minister six-weeks to review. A date close to the same deadline Obama asked the Israeli Defense Minister for an "updated position" regarding settlements, and a six-month plan for progress toward Middle East peace.
Netanyahu has kicked and screamed about the US Administration's demands to cease all settlement expansion projects including "natural growth". But unlike years past, the US Administration hasn't backed down or turned a blind eye to the continuation of settlement construction.

What is even more unusual is that the subtle rift that has occurred between the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister has been portrayed in the public eye. The "subtle differences" could lead one to believe that the problems between the two are probably more intense than we really know.

On June 10th multiple reports about the content of Netanyahu's speech suggested that Netanyahu would agree to the principals of the road map, but not agree to the settlement freeze. Also, the speech allegedly states that the settlements in the West Bank are not an obstacle to peace.

Sources close to Netanyahu say the Prime Minister is developing multiple ways to freeze settlement expansion, including temporary holds on new construction starts in return for reciprocal measures on the part of the Palestinians and Arab states.

These statements are sure not to bode well with the current US Administration. After Netanyahu's statements were made public a senior Washington source confirmed that there has been progress, but he stated that "our position on the need to cease settlement construction has not been altered at all. The talks were good and we will continue in a few days."

In short, nice try Netanyahu but not good enough.

The proposed concessions by the Israeli Prime Minister are a clear disregard to the US Administration's demands. Temporarily halting your future plans for illegal development is not repayment for current illegal activity.

As much as the US Administration and the Israeli coalition government would want us to believe, they are not just having "small disagreements." If so, we would never hear about them. They would be cast off as small scuttles which have no impact over the grand scheme. The two administrations have been issuing public statements contradicting each other's stances on settlements -and that's no small skirmish.

On June 9th Ha'aretz reported that according to Netanyahu aides, the Prime Minister believes that Obama wants to create a confrontation with Israel to help him improve relations with the Arab world.

But could it be the other way around? Could the Israeli Prime Minister be using his disagreement with the US Administration as cover to continue illegal settlement growth? And what exactly is wrong with the American President trying to cool tensions with a threatening contingency infuriated by our inadvertent support of illegal activities and human rights violations? Shouldn't the President act in the interest of the safety and moral regard of the American people?

Netanyahu has been trying to use agreements prior Israeli administrations "supposedly" had with the Bush Administration as reason to continue settlement activities. The "Bush letter" reportedly was a verbal agreement that the United States would not take issue with growth in "settlement blocs."

Recent news reports have quoted those involved in the 2004 talks between Sharon and Bush as saying that they talked about an exception for natural growth, but the Israelis would not agree to a definition of such growth. Specifically, they would not agree to "grow up and not out," limiting the footprints of settlements to what they then were. Given that many settlements have been platted for areas many times their current size, that would allow huge growth.

The Obama Administration has shunned such policies, and also noted that the same letter was also issued under and understanding that a plan for a Palestinian state would be aggressively pursued.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that she neither heard of any agreement nor recognize it as legitimate US policy.
"There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements," said Clinton. "If they did occur, which of course, people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States."

How long will this last? Who will bow down first? Many experts believe Netanyahu's defiance of US demands for a halt in settlement expansion could cause his coalition government to fail. Ehud Barak's Labor Party is one entity whom experts predict would lead the exodus if Netanyahu continues to butt heads with Obama.

Israel's Channel One TV reported that Netanyahu was told Tuesday by an "American official" in Jerusalem that, "We are going to change the world. Please, don't interfere." The report said Netanyahu's aides interpreted this as a "threat."

On Sunday advocates for peace will be looking to see which direction the Prime Minister plans to go in regards to the his differences with the US Administration. Bibi could either use this opportunity to use rhetoric to attract gain support of the growing "post Obama speech" neo- Israeli nationalist, or back down from his stance on settlements and enter into a legitimate peace process.