|Photo by: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO|
'Obama trip underlines strong US-Israel ties'
By HERB KEINON AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH
In first public comment about upcoming visit, PM says he agreed with Obama to focus on Iran, Syria and the peace process.
US President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel is “very important” in
underlining the strong US-Israeli ties at a time of a raging regional storm,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday, in his first
public comments about the presidential visit.
Netanyahu said he and
Obama, when they spoke last month about the scheduled March visit, agreed that
it would focus on three central issues: Iran’s race toward nuclear weapons; the
instability in Syria and how that impacts on regional security, and both Israeli
and US interests; and efforts to move the diplomatic process with the
Netanyahu said that these “very serious” issues
necessitated as much national unity as possible, which he said was the aim of
the current coalition negotiations.
“I welcome President Obama’s
intention to visit Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This will be a very important visit
that will emphasize the strong alliance between Israel and the US. I think that
the importance of this alliance stands out even more given what is happening, in
light of the great revolutions, the earthquakes that are taking place around us
throughout the Middle East, from the Atlantic Ocean and North Africa and
eastwards to Iran.”
Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho is scheduled to hold
meetings in Washington this week to plan for the Obama trip, with National
Security Council head Ya’acov Amidror expected to travel there next week for the
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office declined to say
whether Netanyahu was planning “confidence-building measures” toward the
Palestinians before the Obama visit in order to improve the
Among the ideas that have been raised in the past were a
release of Palestinian prisoners or a partial settlement freeze, perhaps in
settlements outside of the major settlement blocs.
official said there was no doubt that when a new government was formed it would
“want to make an effort – measured and responsible – to advance the diplomatic
process.” And, the official added, “we’ve always been ready to augment diplomacy
with positive steps.”
While it was widely expected that US Secretary of
State John Kerry would make his maiden visit to the region in his new role this
week, the US State Department has not yet formally announced the visit or given
any dates for the trip. Western diplomatic officials said Kerry was instrumental
in convincing Obama to come to the region at this time.
negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Sunday that the Palestinian Authority is unaware
of plans to hold a meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu next
Commenting on reports that the two leaders may meet during Obama’s
visit to the region next month, Erekat said that the US administration still has
not briefed the PA leadership on details of Obama’s schedule.
that the talk about a possible Abbas-Netanyahu summit was nothing but “Israeli
analysis and statements.” He said that the PA leadership’s demands regarding the
peace process remained unchanged – Israeli recognition of the pre-1967 lines as
the borders of a Palestinian state and a full cessation of construction in
Erekat denied that Obama’s planned visit was behind the
failure of the latest attempt to end the dispute between Fatah and
Hamas and Fatah representatives who met in Cairo last weekend
failed to reach agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government and
holding new presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza
“The US probably does not want Palestinian reconciliation,” Erekat
said. “But President Abbas’s stance is that reconciliation is a higher
Palestinian interest and priority.”
Army Radio, meanwhile, quoted unnamed
officials as saying the Obama visit had more to do with trying to fend off an
Israeli attack on Iran, then on making dramatic headway with the Palestinians.
According to this report, the timing of the visit was linked to the timeline on
Iran that Netanyahu spelled out in his September speech at the UN.
that speech Netanyahu said Iran could finish the “second phase” of its nuclear
program – stockpiling enough enriched uranium to produce a bomb – by the spring
or summer, and then could easily move on to the third and final stage of putting
together a nuclear detonator whenever it wished. He said it was necessary to
ensure that the Iranians do not complete the second phase, which he described as
his red line.
According to the radio report, Obama is coming to relay a
direct message to Netanyahu not to take military action, and to let the US deal
with the issue because it has capabilities that Israel does not.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to these US capabilities last month at the
World Economic Forum in Davos, saying “there should be a readiness and an
ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay [Iran] by a significant
He added that the Pentagon has prepared “quite
sophisticated, fine, extremely fine scalpels” for a surgical
Meanwhile, Netanyahu also referred at the cabinet meeting to
Friday’s arson at the Betar Jerusalem soccer team’s office in Jerusalem, sharply
condemning it and saying displays of extremism must be “uprooted.”
prime minister said he absolutely rejected “violence, racism and boycotts” in