George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
April 1, 2010 - 12:00am

Believe it or not, Benjamin Netanyahu may return to Washington next weekend. The Israeli prime minister has apparently overcome the embarrassment of his stressful encounter with President Barack Obama last month on ending illegal Israeli colony construction on occupied Palestinian land, especially in occupied East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish their capital. But whether he will have his tail tucked between his legs remains to be seen.

The Israeli prime minister will be one of 40 world leaders expected to participate in the April 12-13 nuclear security summit, sponsored by Obama, "to enhance international co-operation to prevent nuclear terrorism." What he has to say will interest those who are eagerly awaiting any revelation about Israel's nuclear arsenal.

The dip in US-Israel ties has reached unprecedented levels and the American president can feel comfortable that his stance is backed by the American military establishment and public opinion in the US, and even in some corners of Israel.

General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fomenting anti-American sentiment in the region due to the perception of US favouritism towards Israel. In his view, an Arab-Israeli settlement is an urgent American strategic interest.

Additionally, a just released Zogby Interactive survey revealed that more than four-in-five Americans (81 per cent) agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a negative impact on US interests, including a majority of both Democrats (88 per cent) and Republicans (77 per cent). More significantly, 51 per cent of Americans believe that the inability to stop Israeli colony expansion makes the US less respected in the world.

Even Israelis are now unhappy about their self-righteous prime minister. A poll published in Maariv, the Israeli daily, said that more than 48 per cent described US-Israeli relations as bad, compared to 14 per cent who said they were good and 37 per cent who described them as reasonable.

Trouble brewing

In Europe, the tide is also turning against the right-wing Israeli regime. Israeli diplomats in Europe expect "an even more serious row with the European Union," reported Haaretz. While on a visit to Washington this week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he stands with the United States in condemning Israeli colony activity in occupied East Jerusalem. He also praised Obama for trying to engage the two sides in peace talks. The "absence of peace" in the region "is a problem for all of us" and feeds terrorism around the world, he said.

Whether or not Netanyahu makes it to Washington for the summit, the more important issue as far as the American administration is concerned is whether he will hand over written commitments vis-a-vis the peace process as demanded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to Haaretz, the request stems from the American experience that the US administration has been "burned all too often by Israel's ‘wink and fudge it' policy, and believes that the if the spoken word has no meaning, perhaps the written word will have greater validity."

It continued: "Experienced Israelis and Americans need not search the archives to find documents and agreements that the Israeli government signed but in the end became no more valuable than wrapping paper."

The blunt editorial that appeared in Haaretz contrasts sharply — and agonisingly — with the letter that 327 members of the US House of Representatives sent Secretary Clinton (strangely, not Obama): "We are writing to reaffirm our commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension. Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies."

That is the same line advocated by the pro-Israel lobby, known as the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, at their annual conference last month. But in public defiance of the lobby, often described in the US media as "influential" or "powerful," the liberal Jewish group known as J Street released a poll that said that by a margin of four-to-one (82 per cent to 18 per cent), American Jews support the US playing an active role in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. And 73 per cent of those in favour remain so even if it means that the US would "publicly state its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs."

In a nutshell, all this means that Netanyahu's days in office are numbered, certainly while he has in his coalition right-wing extremists such as the ministers of foreign affairs and interior, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai respectively.


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