U.S. piles pressure on Netanyahu

08:47, April 21, 2010      

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As Israelis marked the 62nd anniversary of the nation's independence on Tuesday, the country's Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned them that in all probability much of the land currently held by the Jewish state will have to be ceded to the Palestinians.

Barak made the comment on Monday, the Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day. It was the headline maker from an interview he granted to the country's Army Radio to mark the most introspective of days on the Israeli calendar.

During his interview, the former army chief and prime minister also warned that relations with the United States could worsen despite the comments from U.S. leaders that the two nations enjoy especially close ties.

Analysts suggest that Barak is passing on a message from Washington to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Barak's words were broadcast after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a message to Israel to mark the Independence Day. "You know, in 1948, it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize your new nation. And ever since, the United States has stood with you in solidarity," Clinton said in a video message.

"Pursuing peace and recognized borders for Israel is one of our top priorities. We believe it is possible -- indeed necessary -- to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that provides Israelis, Palestinians and all the people of the region security, prosperity and the opportunity to live up to their full God-given potential," the secretary of state added.

Gershon Baskin, the founder of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, said "This is the message that Barak is passing from Washington to Netanyahu."

"The American administration is using every avenue that it can to get the message to Netanyahu," said Baskin, who believes that senior Washington officials are in constant touch with Barak in order to bring change in Israeli policy.

Since Barak Obama became the U.S. president and Netanyahu Israel's prime minister, relations between the two countries have been strained.

While diplomats on both sides publicly speak in fuzzy, glowing terms about the "unbreakable bond" behind closed doors and in off- record chats with journalists, it is clear the two do not see eye to eye at all right now.

Barak strongly hinted at that in his interview, in which he spoke of the "increasing alienation" between the two.

Much of the U.S.-Israeli disagreement focuses on Netanyahu's decision to dig in his heels over Israel's right to build in East Jerusalem, and the American insistence that all Jewish construction work halt in the Arab-dominated eastern half of the city.

Israel deems the holy city as its "indivisible capital," while the Palestinians want to see the east part of the city to be the capital of their future state.

Last June, Netanyahu spoke of the need to establish a Palestinian state but he also laid down a series of conditions for that to happen, which the Palestinian leadership described as " unacceptable."

The Palestinians maintain that Netanyahu paid lip service to the idea and is in no way serious about peace. They say his actions since his June 14 speech at Bar-Ilan University have not exactly suggested he is interested in advancing the cause of peace.

For its part, the Netanyahu government says it has made numerous concessions and offers and it is the Palestinians who are refusing to budge.


This stalemate leaves people like Baskin suggesting that unless there is a change in the composition of the Netanyahu coalition government, there is no chance of the peace process advancing before the next scheduled general election in 2013.

"If Netanyahu is going to move forward on the peace front he will have to change his coalition," said Baskin.

Netanyahu came to power on the basis of a stronger vote for the hawkish political right than for the dovish left. His own party did not receive the largest number of seats but he controls a sizeable bloc of lawmakers.

The parties in his ruling coalition, such as the rightist Israel Beiteinu and Shas, are pretty much opposed to territorial compromise, particularly when it comes to Jerusalem.

If Netanyahu wants to remain in office but still please the Americans, argues Baskin, he is going to have to part ways with the likes of Israel Beiteinu and Shas and replace them with the more dovish Kadima, the party that received the most votes in last year's general election.

The ongoing differences between Israel on the one hand and the Palestinians and Americans on the other are "serious challenges," said Jonathan Rynhold, a senior research associate at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv.

But he believes, taking the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as an example, that the country will have a way of pulling through.



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