Expert: US perturbed by Bibi’s inflexibility

Jon Alterman, director of Middle East Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Americans feel 'deep frustration.'

By OREN KESSLER
May 24, 2011 01:37
2 minute read.
Netanyahu meets with Obama at White House

Netanyahu meets with Obama at White House_311. (photo credit: GPO)

US officials are deeply frustrated with what they view as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s intransigence in restarting peace talks, said a US Middle East expert with extensive ties in Washington.

“When I’ve spoken to very senior officials, I think there is deep frustration that it is so hard to work with this prime minister,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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“The Washington establishment wants to work with Israel. The Washington establishment feels a deep connection to Israel and with the whole breadth of the Israeli leadership. That’s the Washington consensus view that I think may be becoming imperiled, because it’s so hard to work with this prime minister.

“It seems strategically dangerous for Israel to pick a fight with the American president gratuitously. If the president were forcing to make concessions that the Israeli public and government thought harmed Israel’s national security, that’s one thing. But this is bupkis, it really is,” he said.

“What other basis is there other than starting with the ’67 lines, with some adjustments?” Alterman said, referring to Netanyahu’s visit to the White House on Friday, in which he told the US president the pre-1967 West Bank armistice lines could not serve as the starting point for Israeli-Palestinian border negotiations.

“There’s a tremendous danger of undermining the broad bipartisan support for Israel that has been built by prime ministers since Israel came into existence,” Alterman said by phone from the US capital. “If you decide Israel can only survive with Republican presidents, that means half the time you’re going to have American presidents who undermine Israel’s security. Do you really want to go there? I don’t get the logic.”

Despite the current strain in relations, Alterman said Washington continues to view Israel as a more trustworthy negotiating partner than the PA.

“There are lower expectations from the Palestinian Authority. Our relationship with Israel is one based on shared values, as the president said, and shared educational experiences and shared expectations,” he said. “Part of the strength of the USIsraeli relationship is Israel’s capacity. And time and time again I’ve talked to US officials who have worked with this Israeli government only to be insulted or rebuffed.”

Last year, Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel when the Ministry of the Interior announced it had approved the construction of 1,600 new apartments in east Jerusalem, prompting the vice president to denounce the “substance and timing” of the announcement.

“Is that really the way Israel wants to treat an American vice president, who was there trying to pave the way for the president to visit Israel?” Alterman said. “It would be nice to be that independent - that Israel could order a superpower around.”


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