Low expectations for Netanyahu-Obama meeting

Netanyahu Israel ready

February 22, 2010 17:02
4 minute read.
bibi dc 248 88 AP

bibi dc 248 88 AP. (photo credit: )

Ahead of a meeting with US President Barack Obama on Monday evening, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his senior advisers that Israel is willing to go "a long way" and "be generous" in negotiations with the Palestinians, but it will not compromise on "effective security arrangements" that prevent a recurrence of Gaza and south Lebanon. The lack of eagerness in the White House in arranging a meeting as is traditionally done when an Israeli PM is in town, and the fact that this one is not scheduled to include even a standard photo opportunity, kept expectations of results low. "We're ready to go a long way, and to be generous in restricting [settlement] construction as a gesture to jumpstart the negotiations, and also [to be generous] in concessions to reach a settlement," Netanyahu said in briefings with his senior staff ahead of the meeting with Obama, according to sources close to the prime minister. "But," he added, "we won't compromise on security arrangements, and that includes preventing the entry of weapons and armaments to any area Israel will vacate. Until today, the security arrangements [reached] in Gaza and Lebanon were not effective, and weapons and armaments were smuggled in freely. In any future settlement, security arrangements must be effective," the prime minister said. Netanyahu's spokesman Nir Hefetz did radio interviews twice in the space of 24 hours, one from the plane en-route to Washington D.C. and one when the prime minister's convoy landed, in which he defended US-Israel relations and explained that the GA was the main focus of the prime minister's trip. Netanyahu, whose visit to Washington concludes Monday, spent the afternoon following his speech making a swing through Capitol Hill. Eytan Gilboa, an expert in American Israeli relations from Bar Ilan University, said the process leading up to the meeting had been awkward. "The White House accused Netanyahu of trying to impose a visit on Obama and Netanyahu argued that this was another attempt to humiliate him," said Gilboa. It is expected that when an Israeli prime minister visits the United States, he meets with the president, because the two countries have a lot to coordinate, he said. The Obama administration's decision to play games with these types of visits is one more sign of its failed Middle East policy. But former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold told The Jerusalem Post that Obama has changed his schedule a number of times this week, deciding for example to go to a memorial service for the slain soldiers in Fort Hood instead of attending the GA. "We may be reading things that might not be there," when it comes to lead up to this meeting as a barometer of Israeli American relations. "It is important to get beyond the questions of atmospherics. The US and Israel have a serious and an increasingly serious problem with Iran," said Gold. He added that the real question that must be answered from the meeting is how the two countries will deal with this threat. The meeting comes on the heels of a trip by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East in which she angered many in the Arab world by appearing to back off America's stated commitment to a total settlement freeze when she called a deal in the works for a partial halt - as a prelude to restarting peace talks - "unprecedented" on the part of Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made a total freeze a condition for peace talks resuming and recently threatened not to run for another term in upcoming elections if the US doesn't insist on a total freeze. Netanyahu was quoted by senior PMO sources as criticizing the Palestinian demand for a total settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations. "For 16 years, there has never been a demand for a construction freeze as a precondition for starting negotiations, nor was there Israeli willingness to restrict construction before entering negotiations," he said, "so we are convinced that Israel is doing everything it must to advance peace while preserving quiet." One source close to the prime minister asked rhetorically, "What more must Israel say just to earn the start of negotiations? Bibi plans to tell Obama that he and the government are serious in preparing for peace. We mean business." Officials close to the prime minister have in the past placed the blame for introducing the demand for a total pre-negotiations settlement freeze on the Obama administration itself, but they have pulled back from this position in recent months. "We're not dealing with who is at fault for what," said one official. "There are two sides now. One is the Israeli side which is willing to start negotiations, and the other is the Palestinian side which is refusing. The onus for starting negotiations is not on the Americans, but on the Palestinians." Hilary Leila Krieger and E.B. Solomont contributed to this report.

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