Sharansky: Netanyahu won't clash with Obama

Says Likud boss's ability to stand up to pressure has improved since he was prime minister.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 1, 2009 00:42
3 minute read.
Sharansky: Netanyahu won't clash with Obama

sharansky 248 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

Former minister Natan Sharansky, who has been a frequent guest at the White House in recent years, has rejected allegations from Kadima that if elected prime minister, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu would not get along with the administration of US President Barack Obama. Sharansky, who now heads the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center, was considered a mentor by former US president George W. Bush. He met with Obama a year ago and discussed the bottom-up theory of solving the Middle East conflict that Sharansky has been talking about for years and which has become the basis of Netanyahu's "economic peace" diplomatic plan. Based on that conversation, Obama's writings and the history of Israel's relations with the US, Sharansky said he was convinced that Netanyahu would get along well with Obama's administration and that the president would endorse Netanyahu's approach to achieving peace with the Palestinians. "The attempt to use Obama to attack Bibi really bothers me," Sharansky said in an interview at his Jerusalem office on Thursday. "It is absolutely ridiculous to say that a candidate who can say no to the Americans is dangerous, because it assumes that the ability to say no to the Americans is a bad thing." Sharansky said there was no danger of a crisis with the US over a disagreement between the two countries as long as Israel was open with the American administration about its policies. He said it had been proven true historically that crises between Israel and the United States only emerged when the Israeli government misinformed Washington about its true leanings on a particular issue. "If they have a feeling that we are playing games, that's when we have a real problem," Sharansky said. Sharansky said he explained this to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, but he was afraid of upsetting the United States. Sharansky said that fear resulted in Bush abandoning his grassroots approach to Middle East peacemaking and allowing State Department officials to initiate the road map and Annapolis diplomatic processes. Asked whether he had confidence in Netanyahu sticking up for Israel's positions more than his predecessors, Sharansky said Netanyahu had proven when he was finance minister that his ability to stand up to pressure had improved since his first term as prime minister. "I complained to him when he was prime minister that he didn't withstand pressure, but as finance minister he stood up against the entire country," Sharansky said. "He learned and became stronger. "Whether he will be strong enough to implement [his plans] depends on how strong his election victory will be. Inevitably you get pushed by your coalition partners, but he is much more capable now." But Sharansky said there was no reason for a disagreement with Washington. He predicted that Obama would realize that the bottom-up approach to solving the Middle East conflict was preferable to what had not worked since the Oslo process began in 1993. "The time for the bottom-up approach is ripe because the other alternatives collapsed so forcefully," Sharansky said. "We have a president who has time. Obama said he would keep his finger on the pulse and he's doing it. If there's any president who can understand the bottom-up approach, it's Obama, who wrote about the importance of the grassroots in his books." Netanyahu's economic peace plan calls for continuing diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, regional cooperation with Jordan, and mass investment in the Palestinian Authority to give the Palestinians an incentive to seek peace. Sharansky said that if Netanyahu won the election and handled Israel's relations with America correctly, Obama would endorse the plan. "Whether we end up having good relations is mostly up to us," he said. "If we lead our policies firmly, wisely and frankly, there is no danger of conflict." On a personal note, Sharansky, who turned 61 on the day of Obama's inauguration, said that he was happy in his current position and had no plans to reenter politics, even if he was offered the Foreign Ministry by Netanyahu. "I won't keep a secret that I'm still in the Likud," Sharansky said. "But no one is proposing and I didn't ask for this or any other position. I have different tools now to promote my ideas from outside the Knesset."


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