Veteran New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made waves in Israeli politics on Monday for suggesting that the US abandon efforts for an Israel-Palestinian peace deal.
In a column published Saturday in the Times and Monday in The Jerusalem Post and Ma'ariv, Friedman wrote that reaching a diplomatic agreement interested the American administration more than the Israelis or Palestinians. He suggested that the Obama administration tell the prime minister what James Baker did when he was secretary of state: Call us when you are ready to talk peace.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's media adviser, Nir Hefetz, responded on Israel Radio that Friedman's analysis was wrong when it comes to the Israeli side but right regarding the Palestinians.
"Nobody wants peace more than the people of Israel, the Israeli government and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu," Hefetz said. "We saw evidence of [Israel's desire for peace] in Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan address and in the various gestures [to make life easier for Palestinians] in the West Bank and elsewhere. The Palestinian side took two steps backward, and is setting preconditions [for commencing peace talks] that have been unheard of for the past 16 years."
But Netanyahu's minister of Diaspora affairs and public diplomacy, Yuli Edelstein, told Army Radio that he agreed with Friedman that the US should stop pushing for concessions to move the peace process forward.
"Negotiations do not come as a result of pressure," Edelstein said. "The prime minister is ready to talk about all the issues, starting with economic peace and environmental issues, while the Palestinians only want talks if we give up everything in advance. We have to wait for conditions for talks to develop."
MKs on the Left and Kadima officials said the Friedman column scared them. They warned that if the US abandoned its efforts to solve the Middle East conflict, Israel would become a binational state that would lose its Jewish majority.
"Friedman's column shows that Netanyahu has put us in complete international isolation," Kadima MK Ronnie Bar-On said. "Four European prime ministers came together to Jerusalem to meet with Olmert even though he was a lame duck prime minister, just because he was trying to promote peace. Would any of them come to meet Netanyahu now?"
By contrast, lawmakers on the Right said they would be very happy if the US allowed Israel to decide its fate without international interference.
"I hope the White House accepts Friedman's advice," MK Arye Eldad said. "The best thing for Israel would be if the White House leaves us alone and deals with what is really important like the international economic crisis and preventing the nuclearization of North Korea and Iran. We will be fine dealing with Maoz Esther [a West Bank outpost] on our own."
Eldad lashed out at Netanyahu for boasting in his speech to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly that "no Israeli government has been so willing to restrain settlement activity as part of an effort to relaunch peace talks."
"Everything we worried about with Netanyahu has come true," Eldad said. "He is untrustworthy, he is breaking his campaign promises to build in Judea and Samaria, he has given into pressure and he is a coward. He shows that he lacks any national pride when he brags that he froze settlement construction more than any prime minister, including those from the Left. Groveling to Obama has not helped him even obtain an empty photo-op with him."
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