Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he will
return to the US on Monday, to take part in President Barack Obama’s
Nuclear Security Summit, just three weeks after he met with Obama in a
meeting widely characterized as extremely difficult.
Beyond meeting Obama at a reception for the more than 40 leaders from
around the world who are expected at the two-day gathering, no
one-on-one meeting is scheduled between the two men.
Nor, one government official said, is there a sense of great pressure
inside the Prime Minister’s Office for Netanyahu to provide the US with
responses to demands that were presented him during his meeting with
Obama two weeks ago.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, said he did not feel
Israel was obliged to give any written response at all to the US
demands, which included a four-month moratorium on Jewish building in
east Jerusalem, an extension of the 10-month housing-start moratorium
in the West Bank, confidence-building measures to the Palestinians, and
an agreement to deal with the core issues of Jerusalem, refugees and
borders in indirect proximity talks.
“I don’t think we need to give any written responses,” Lieberman said
in an Israel Radio interview. “I don’t know why everyone thinks Israel
has to present a report where we explain ourselves. I think the
government of Israel’s position is clear.”
Lieberman said Israel had already made enough gestures toward the
Palestinian Authority and that it was now the PA’s turn to reciprocate.
Among the Israeli gestures he numbered were Netanyahu’s speech at
Bar-Ilan University on June 14, where he accepted a two-state solution;
the housing-start moratorium in the West Bank; allowing Fatah to
convene a meeting in Bethlehem last year; and removing numerous IDF
Instead of receiving a “positive incentive” in return for these steps,
Lieberman said, “all we got were more demands, more pressure and more
Responding to questions on whether this position would not lead to
further strain in ties with Washington, Lieberman said, “We as a state
need to understand that as long as we want to remain an independent
country, we need to demonstrate an ability to withstand pressure.
“We cannot give up our sovereignty; we are talking about our
sovereignty as an independent state,” he said. “I don’t know a state in
the world that would agree to any limitation on construction in its
capital. This is completely unacceptable, and therefore, there are
periods when you have to demonstrate determination and also an ability
to withstand pressure.”
While on the surface, Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Obama’s summit
seemed obvious, it was preceded by deliberations about whether his
attendance at a conference focusing on the nuclear issue and attended
by countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
would be beneficial.
One of the arguments in favor of going to the conference was simply
that when the president of the US extends an invitation, one accepts it.
The prime minister will be accompanied by Shaul Horev, director-general
of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and National Security Council
head Uzi Arad.
Although the conference is an attempt to secure all loose nuclear
material within four years, and to keep this material – believed to be
enough to build more than 100,000 nuclear bombs – out of the hands of
terrorist organizations, it will inevitably also focus on Iran.
As such, another of the arguments in favor of attending was that
Netanyahu should be at a forum where critical decisions might be made
on Iran – perhaps regarding what types of sanctions to impose on the
country if it does not halt its nuclear march.
Also, Netanyahu has been one of the leading voices in recent years
calling for concerted international action to keep nuclear material out
of the hands of non-state actors such as terrorist organizations – the
main theme of the summit.
On the other side of the pro-con ledger, one main argument against
participation was that Netanyahu’s presence at an international forum
dealing with nuclear issues would inevitably draw attention to Israel’s
own reported nuclear arsenal, as well as its policy of ambiguity on
whether it has nuclear weapons.
Countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia will certainly – as
they do regularly at international nuclear forums – shine the spotlight
on Israel and a perceived imbalance: Why is the world so keen on
stopping Iran’s nuclear development program, but silent in the face of
Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal?
One government official said Netanyahu’s decision to attend, despite
this likely scenario, had been made because key issues affecting Israel
would be discussed there, and it was important for the Jewish state’s
voice to be heard – as well as the realization that Israel’s reported
nuclear capacity would be an issue whether Netanyahu participated in
the meeting or not.
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