Sharansky's ‘surprise’ prophesy realized

“If US feels we're playing games, it's a problem,” Sharansky said last year.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
March 17, 2010 03:19
3 minute read.
Sharansky's ‘surprise’ prophesy realized

natan sharansky 248 aj. (photo credit: ariel jerozolimsky)

 
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US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can disagree about policies without harming their relations but they cannot surprise each other, Natan Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post ahead of Netanyahu’s election, in a statement that now reads like a prophesy amid the current crisis with Washington.

In an interview published February 1, 2009, Sharansky said there was no danger of turmoil with the US over a difference of opinion between the two countries as long as Israel was open with the American administration about its policies.

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He said it had been proven true historically that crises between Israel and the US 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,” said Sharansky, who at the time headed the Adelson Center for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center and now chairs the Jewish Agency.

Problems between Israel and the US emerged when Obama surprised Netanyahu by informing him that he would insist on a complete West Bank construction freeze when they met in Washington in May and intensified last week when an Interior Ministry committee approved plans for 1,600 housing units in the northeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit.

When asked about his prediction, Sharansky said Tuesday that surprises should only be problematic when they were intentional, which he was sure the Ramat Shlomo decision was not.

“Surprises are not good, especially on sensitive issues, but I know that this wasn’t a purposeful surprise,” Sharansky said. “As a former interior minister who is familiar with all the processes of approving plans, I know that the clerks look only at what they are in charge of. The American administration must know that this was not the provocation that they said it was.”



Sharansky also suggested that plans approving building in east Jerusalem should not have come as a shock to those familiar with Israel’s policies.

“On the Jerusalem issue, Netanyahu’s views are so clear that they should not have surprised anyone,” Sharansky said. “That’s really been true for every prime minister. Jerusalem is not an issue you can fight Israel over. It’s not the center of Samaria.”

Noting the statements praising the US-Israel relationship that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Tuesday, Sharansky said he hoped the crisis was nearly over and that key lessons had been learned.

“It’s important for both sides not to surprise the other,” he reiterated. “The Israeli government must make an effort from now on to ensure that there really will be no surprises. But the US should also not have a policy of surprises.”

One Sharansky prediction that did not come true was that Obama would endorse Netanyahu’s economic peace approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which focused on reaching out to grassroots Palestinians and not to their leadership. He said at the time that he thought that Obama would realize that the bottom-up approach 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 in last year’s interview. “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.”  

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