Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in Politico - April 9, 2010 - 12:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has abruptly canceled his plans to attend President Barack Obama’s nuclear security summit next week, creating an embarrassing distraction on the eve of a high-profile meeting the White House has sought to carefully choreograph.

An Israeli official confirmed Netanyahu’s decision not to attend, which was revealed by Israeli media outlets Thursday afternoon Washington time.

''In the last 24 hours, the Israeli government has learned of various reports from various sources on the intention of several states attending the conference not only to deal with the issue at hand, but to take the opportunity to make a point of grand-standing against Israel and the issue of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," the Israeli official said. "The prime minister was dismayed at this, and decided to stick to the Israeli policy that Israel is usually represented at these types of conferences at the professional-ministerial level.”

Another official, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, will head the Israeli delegation attending the summit on securing nuclear materials.

The White House said it welcomes Meridor’s participation. “Israel is a close ally and we look forward to continuing to work closely on issues related to nuclear security,” National Security Council spokesman Michael Hammer said. “This is a summit focused on addressing the security of nuclear materials and geared toward having the participants take practical measures to ensure that terrorists cannot get access to those materials.”

However, some analysts were skeptical about the official Israeli explanation, since the potential for Israel to face questions about its nuclear program has been widely known and openly discussed since Obama announced plans for the summit early last year.

Netanyahu’s about-face came as the New York Times and Washington Post published accounts suggesting that Obama was considering presenting his own detailed peace proposal to Israel and the Palestinians if the so-called proximity talks the U.S. is trying to conduct fail.

“Having just had this brouhaha with Obama, and having failed to resolve it, Bibi may well be on the hook for an answer” to U.S. demands on the peace process, veteran U.S. Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller said. “He decided basically I think to pass… He didn’t want another lecture from the secretary of state.”

The crowd of Republican activists at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans Thursday night applauded loudly when told, by Liz Cheney, of Netanayhu's decision.

"President Obama is playing a reckless game if he continues down the path of diminishing America's ties to Israel," she said.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli journalists received the Israeli prime minister's planned travel itinerary, which said Netanyahu and his delegation were due to arrive in Washington on Monday night. The news of Netanyahu’s no-show broke on the same day that Obama was in Prague to sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians — a prelude to next week’s 47-nation summit, where most countries will be represented by their respective heads of state.

Israel has never become a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If that issue comes up at the summit, it would raise uncomfortable questions about Israel’s own nuclear arsenal — which has never been formally acknowledged by the Jewish state.

The prime minister’s sudden reversal of plans to attend Obama’s gathering also came many analysts have described tensions in the U.S.-Israel relationship as being at an all-time high. Last month, an announcement of new housing approvals in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden led to an unusually harsh rebuke from the White House, which said it “condemned” the move. The tone of the Obama administration’s response caught Israeli officials and some U.S.-based supporters of Israel by surprise.

The dust-up over the housing announcement led to an awkward exchange at the White House two weeks ago between Netanyahu and Obama.

Obama is said to be seeking a pledge from Netanyahu of no similar housing announcements while U.S. diplomats conduct proximity talks.

Even before Netanyahu’s announcement that he would not attend the summit, officials on both sides said he and Obama were not planning to meet next week, ostensibly because the pair just met and Obama has a busy schedule of bilateral meetings with summit participants.

Several Middle East experts were skeptical of the official Israeli explanation for Netanyahu cancelling his trip.

The Israelis think the “trial balloon” of a U.S. peace plan amounts to “high-pressure tactics and arm-twisting from the administration,” said the American Task Force for Palestine’s Hussein Ibish.

A former policy director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen, said Netanyahu “probably realized at the conference he was going to be sitting there as a kind of straight man for everybody else.” The former AIPAC official called the prime minister’s move “understated” and said he didn’t think it reflected a deliberate snub of Obama.

Netanyahu’s “not saying no to proximity talks with the Palestinians. He’s not refusing to send a top aide. He’s simply saying, ‘I don’t have to be there,’” Rosen said. “The Americans are not going to love the fact that the prime minister is not coming, but they’ll live.”


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017