PM to meet Obama amid effort to avert UN ‘train wreck'

Netanyahu set to arrive in US, will work to prevent Palestinian statehood bid from passing in UNSC; Nigeria to abstain in statehood resolution.

September 21, 2011 05:39
PM Netanyahu sitting with US President Obama

PM Netanyahu sitting with US President Obama 311. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed early Wednesday morning to do battle against recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, with his first stop being a meeting in New York with US President Barack Obama just a few hours after arrival.

Before leaving, Netanyahu told Likud MKs and mayors meeting in the Knesset that “We don’t want peace just on paper, but a lasting peace. For that we need to stand up for our interests. It’s much easier to give in to pressure, not stand up, and get applauded by the world that doesn’t understand what we have been through. We are determined to protect our interests and stand up for our truth.”

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The Netanyahu-Obama meeting, the eighth between the two leaders since they both took office in early 2009, takes place four months after a meeting in May at the White House during which administration officials reportedly fumed at Netanyahu for what they perceived as his lecturing of the president over Obama’s call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to begin on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, with mutually-agreed land swaps.

Though Netanyahu came out strongly against that proposal at the time, in the intervening months he has rolled back his position and agreed in principle to accept – with reservations – the pre-1967 lines with mutual swaps as part of the formula for renewing talks. That agreement was based on the condition that the Palestinians agree that the parameters would also include recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

This idea is still serving as the basis for attempts by the Quartet to find a formula to restart the negotiations and thereby take much of the “sting” out of any resolution on statehood that the PA brings to either the Security Council or the UN.

Quartet envoys were scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon in New York for the third consecutive day to discuss the matter. Among other ideas that are being bandied about to restart negotiations are for the Palestinians to delay a vote on the matter in the Security Council or General Assembly for six months, and for Israel to declare another settlement construction freeze.

Ironically, Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama comes as the US president is being pummeled by Republican presidential candidates over his treatment of Israel, a week after his Middle East positions had a part to play in the loss of a safe Democratic seat in a very Jewish district in New York, but as Netanyahu is saying that coordination with the administration is the best it has been since the beginning of the Obama term.

In a sign of the closeness of the cooperation, US Envoy to Israel Dan Shapiro flew on the prime minister’s plane to New York, something US ambassadors have not done since Martin Indyk used to fly on Ehud Barak’s plane when he was prime minister.

The Obama-Netanyahu meeting is expected to focus on the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, with both the US and Israel having the shared interest of trying to keep the Palestinians from getting nine positive votes on the 15-member council, so the US would not have to use its veto to shoot down the measure.

That effort received a boost Tuesday when Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan told Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a meeting that his country would abstain if the measure came to a vote in the Security Council.

At this point Israel believes the other countries who may be convinced to either vote against or abstain on the measure in the Security Council are, in addition to the US, Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Colombia, and Gabon. The other countries on the council are India, Brazil, South Africa, Lebanon, China and Russia.

Netanyahu will meet with the heads of state of a number of these countries before Friday when Abbas is expected to formally request to UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon that the issue be taken up by the Security Council.

Netanyahu is expected to meet Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho on Wednesday, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Netanyahu is also expected to meet Ban on Wednesday.

The meeting between Barak and Jonathan was set up about a week ago, and – according to a statement put out by Barak’s office – was coordinated both with Netanyahu and the US.

In addition to discussing the Palestinian issue, the statement said the two also discussed the “challenges of international terrorism and ways the two countries can cooperate in this area.” Nigeria, one of Israel’s closest friends in Africa, has been plagued over the last number of years by radical Islamic terrorism.

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In Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama, the two are also expected to talk about Israeli- Turkish tension, with Obama scheduled to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting as well. Previous efforts by the US to calm down the tension between its two allies did not bear fruit.

Netanyahu is also expected to discuss Iran with Obama, as well as thank him again for his efforts and intervention with the Egyptians two weeks ago that led to the safe evacuation of the six Israeli security guards holed up in Israel’s embassy in Cairo ransacked by a mob.

Netanyahu and Obama are not scheduled to hold a press conference after their meeting, but are expected to issue brief statements at the beginning.

Meanwhile, Abbas’s statement broadcast Monday that he would be willing to meet Israeli leaders anywhere – quickly followed by Netanyahu’s proposal to meet in New York – has not led to any concrete steps to set up a meeting between the two. They are, however, expected to be in the same room at a reception hosted by Obama at the UN.

Netanyahu told the gathering of Likud MKs and mayors in the Knesset that he has told Abbas many times that “the path to peace comes through negotiations, and not through unilateral acts.

The way to get to the end of negotiations is to start them and stick with them. That’s what Israel wanted to do, but the Palestinians refused.

There is a growing understanding in the world about what has to be done before a state is created. That’s what I will speak about in the UN.”

In a related development, opposition leader Tzipi Livni – who has been withering in her criticism of Netanyahu both inside Israel and abroad – called him ahead of his departure to New York and said the trip was “critical to Israel’s future.”

“Any action taken by the UN endangers Israel’s security and national interests,” she said. “But it can be prevented.

It’s not too late.

Opening real negotiations can prevent the expected action in the UN and will serve the national interests of Israel that are eroding. If you start negotiating with the Palestinians, Kadima will support you.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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