Yael Levy
July 21, 2009 - 12:00am

Outgoing Israeli ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor warned this week that direct confrontation with the United States over Israeli construction in the West Bank could prove detrimental to Israel's interests. In a conversation with Ynet, the man, who until Monday was in charge of Israel's ties with its closest ally, also criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy on the matter.

In response to American pressure on Israel not to allow construction in the east Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Netanyahu declared on Sunday that Jews would be allowed to live in any part of the capital.

"I can't say for certain what the prime minister's considerations were in this case," he said. "It's important to conduct these negotiations with the utmost intimacy, in an attempt to reach an understanding."

Meridor warned that "conflict between Israel and the US has a negative effect not only on the relations between the two states, but also on the chance for peace in the Middle East."

The outgoing envoy, whom Netanyahu decided to replace shortly after taking office, hinted that the PM's decision to come out publicly against the US over the issue of Jerusalem, rather than resolve the matter diplomatically, was meant to deflect public focus from the West Bank settlements to the capital.

"We enjoy much greater support among the US democrats on the issue of Jerusalem than on the issue of the settlements, which is controversial among Americans, to say the least," explained Meridor.

"Jerusalem is an issue that garners more support for Israel," he added.

'It takes time to build intimacy'

Meridor defined the faceoff with the US as "unusual, but not unprecedented." He gave as an example former Prime Minister Menachem Begin's rejection of President Ronald Regan's policy, and former PM Ariel Sharon's speech against President George W. Bush.

Commenting on the cooling relations between Israel and the US, Meridor said: "A natural change has occurred in Israel-Us relations, because the political circumstances have changed. The American pendulum moved to the center-left, while the Israeli pendulum moved to the center-right.

"This fact calls for rigorous efforts, and this certainly is a sensitive time that requires special attention."

However, he stressed that "the ties with the Americans are very strong, and the contexts must not be confused. We are at loggerheads over the settlements, but the two countries have a strong alliance that is based on common interests, including preventing dangerous nuclear developments in Iran, facing the terror threat and advancing peace.

"We must not lose our head and judge these relations only with regards to the settlement controversy. There is true friendship between the US and the State of Israel."

Meridor concluded by referring to the nature of the relations between President Barack Obama and PM Netanyahu. "Currently the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama seems less intimate (than between former President Bush and former PM Olmert), but it takes time to build intimate relations. The relations between Bush and Sharon were also not as close in the beginning as they were in 2005, and they evolved slowly between Bush and Olmert."


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