US President Barack Obama has stated repeatedly in private conversations that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,” regarding Jerusalem's advancement of new settlement plans, influential Jewish American columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reported Tuesday.
Following the November 29 UN vote to upgrade the Palestinians to non-member observer state status, Israel announced that 3,000 housing units would be built in areas beyond the Green Line, and zoning and planning for thousands of other units throughout Judea and Samaria would be authorized, including in the controversial project between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim called E1.
In his weekly Bloomberg column published on Tuesday, Goldberg wrote: "When informed about the Israeli decision, Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn’t even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behavior on [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart."
Building in E-1, which would create contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim to the northeast beyond the Green Line, is something various Israeli governments have long wanted to do, but which US opposition has prevented. The Palestinian Authority has contended that construction in E1 could split the West Bank and damage the prospects of the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The White House publicly criticized the E1 building plans immediately after they were announced in late November, stating that "these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution."
According to Goldberg, Obama said in private that Netanyahu was leading Israel down a path toward near-total isolation by advancing settlement plans.
"On matters related to the Palestinians, the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise," Goldberg wrote.
If, as widely expected, Netanyahu forms the next government following the January 22 elections, the first meeting of his second term with Obama is expected to take place in Washington in early March.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has invited Netanyahu to address its annual policy conference in Washington, which will be held on March 3-5. Once there, it is widely expected that Netanyahu will meet with Obama, who will also just be embarking on his second term.
Even though the possible meeting is some two months off and as yet unconfirmed, messages have been passing between Jerusalem and Washington in recent weeks regarding the likely meeting and ways to set a more positive tone in the relationship at the outset of both leaders’ new terms.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.