Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
April 13, 2009 - 12:00am

The new U.S. administration and the new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are preparing for a possible confrontation on the future of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well as several other issues.

A collision course between the two countries seems inevitable as U.S. President Barack Obama reiterates his support for a two-state solution to the protracted conflict while Netanyahu's new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman states that Israel is no longer obliged to honor previous peace agreements with the Palestinians.

"There is one document that binds us, and it is not the Annapolis conference," declared Lieberman, whose extreme anti-Arab views have gained widespread notoriety here. "That has no validity."

In the last few weeks American officials, afraid that Netanyahu might try to drum up support in congress against the new administration's firm line, have been briefing senior Democratic congressman in preparation for disagreements with Israel.

The bottom line of these administration officials is that although Obama will continue to provide Israel with military assistance, honoring previous agreements signed by his predecessor George W Bush, the United States will relentlessly pursue the establishment of a Palestinian state coexisting beside Israel.

The United States wants to see the road map and the Annapolis agreements fulfilled and implemented.

But before the issues are thrashed out Washington is waiting to see what Netanyahu's bottom line will be.

Netanyahu is expected to travel to Washington next month where this will be discussed. But even prior to this, there are signs that Obama is already taking steps which could be a precursor of some relevant change to come.

The possible clashes between Israel and the U.S. will not only be over the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Obama is also interested in developing the Israel-Syrian peace track but he is in no hurry for this.

The U.S. administration wants Israel to return the occupied Golan Heights in return for an end to the state of belligerency between the two countries.

This is a very thorny issue for many Israelis as the Golan Heights provides Israel, a country which suffers water shortages, with vital water supplies, from Lake Kinneret

Additionally, many illegal Israeli settlements are situated on the Golan where settlers earn a lucrative living farming its fertile soil. It is also a popular holiday vacation for many Israelis during winter with its ski resorts.

However, even if there is progress on the Syrian-Israeli peace track, Obama will insist on this development not being used as an excuse by Tel Aviv to freeze the ever important Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which he sees as a core issue to helping resolve the Mideast conflagration

But the thorniest issue is the tension between the Jewish state and Iran and it is here too that possible friction could arise.

It would appear that Obama is putting on the kid-gloves for the Islamic theocracy at this point in time much to Israel's chagrin.

Israel has long argued for tough action against Iran and its alleged nuclear program. Israel has also taken part in military maneuvers and drill operations in the event of an offensive attack against Tehran.

Obama on the other hand has gone out of his way to explore negotiations with the Islamic theocracy and to show that he is willing to engage in dialogue.

He sees this as an important precursor to resorting to stiffening sanctions or a possible military attack.

Obama's administration is laying out two different policies in regard to Tehran's alleged desire to acquire nuclear weapons.

The first focuses on Iran's right to have nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment facilitated under international supervision, while the second would be opposition to Iran building a nuclear weapon.

A number of important developments have taken place over the last few weeks which further highlight how differently the U.S. and Israel view the way to go about dealing with problematic regional issues.

The administration has prioritized tackling the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bruce Riedel, a former top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst on Middle and South Asia, has argued that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would go a long way to reducing the appeal of al-Qaida.

This view is shared by Obama himself as well as other key administration officials, a view that will undoubtedly not win approval from Netanyahu who would prefer the pressure to be applied to Iran and not his government.

The second blow to Netanyahu came shortly thereafter. Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine interviewed the Israeli leader. The article was entitled "Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran – or I will."

The interview repeated the views of senior Israeli officials who had warned not so bluntly that Tehran's nuclear facilities could be unilaterally attacked if Washington's diplomatic efforts to stall the alleged nuclear program failed.

Senator Joseph Biden, one of Obama's main foreign policy advisers, when questioned on CNN, responded, "I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that," said Biden, adding, "I think he would be ill-advised to do that."

Subsequent efforts, by lawmakers and individuals closely associated with the "Israel Lobby," to downplay Biden's strong response apparently failed.

Further, putting pressure on Netanyahu is a growing European stance that Hamas can't be sidelined and any future realistic agreement for peace between Israel and the Palestinians will have to include them.

And it was surely not lost on Israeli government officials that Obama's first major policy talk aimed at the Islamic world took place in Turkey.

A country which had had good relations with Israel prior to Israel's bloody assault on Gaza but has of late distanced itself from Tel Aviv.


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