Likud accuses Obama of 'interference' in elections

Senior Likud officials charge US president with leaking sharp criticism of Netanyahu to media in order to sway votes.

Netanyahuo Obama chilly awkward 390 (photo credit: Jim Young/ Reuters)
Netanyahuo Obama chilly awkward 390
(photo credit: Jim Young/ Reuters)
Senior Likud officials accused US President Barack Obama on Tuesday of leaking sharp criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s leadership to columnist Jeffrey Goldberg in order to sway voters in next Tuesday’s election.
Goldberg quoted Obama in a Bloomberg piece as having said privately that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”
A sharp critic himself of Netanyahu and the country’s settlement policies, Goldberg wrote that “with each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near isolation.”
The columnist noted that Obama’s comment had come shortly after the November 29 UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status, a move followed by Netanyahu’s announcement that he would advance plans to develop E1 and build 3,000 units in east Jerusalem and the settlement blocs.
According to Goldberg, Obama “told several people that sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.”
Obama chose Goldberg, who is believed to have good White House contacts, to get across a message on Iran before he addressed AIPAC and met Netanyahu in the White House in March. The columnist wrote that “on matters related to the Palestinians the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise.”
He added that he would not be surprised if Obama “eventually offered a public vision of what a state of Palestine should look like, and affirmed that it should have its capital in East Jerusalem.”
Goldberg also said Obama wanted Netanyahu to recognize that Israel’s settlement policies were dooming a twostate solution, and to acknowledge that such a solution represented the best chance of preserving “the country as a Jewish-majority democracy.”
Sources close to Netanyahu responded carefully, saying that the prime minister would continue to protect the country’s vital national security interests in the coming government that he would lead. The sources noted that Obama had said Israeli-US defense and security cooperation were at unprecedented levels, which was evident in US support for Israeli missile defense systems and diplomatic backing during Operation Pillar of Defense.
But Likud officials accused Obama of “gross interference” in the Israeli election and said the president was “taking revenge” against Netanyahu for his perceived intervention in the November US election on behalf of unsuccessful Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The officials said Obama had been swayed against Netanyahu by President Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who heads the Likud’s response team, said Goldberg was merely a dovish publicist trumpeting the views of the American far-Left.
“This is gossip a journalist wrote, and the facts suggest that the opposite is true,” Erdan said. “Israelis expect their prime minister not to give in to pressure, even if it would give them applause in the United States.”
Likud MK Danny Danon, who wrote an anti-Obama book, ironically defended Goldberg, saying that US Jews had a right to an opinion on Israel, no matter where they were on the political map. He expressed hope that Goldberg would continue writing against Netanyahu ahead of the election.
“Any interference will just give us more seats,” Danon wrote.
Goldberg told The Jerusalem Post that he was amused by the reactions of Israeli politicians, especially accusations that he had conspired with the Israeli Left to maximize damage to Netanyahu. He said what he had written was consistent with statements Obama had made in the past about the need for Israel’s friends to hold up a mirror and tell the truth.
“In the administration, they saw that after Obama supported Israel in the Gaza conflict and at the UN, the next day Netanyahu wanted to build a new settlement in E1, and they threw up their hands in frustration,” Goldberg said. “I have picked up this chatter about the White House over the past two weeks, so I wrote it. I’m a journalist, writing about what’s happening, not trying to steer an Israeli election.”
When told about Erdan’s criticism of him, the columnist said, “That’s fine. Blame the messenger, but those who say that Obama and Bibi’s relationship is healthy are deluding themselves.”
Asked whether Obama wanted Netanyahu to win the election, Goldberg said he had no idea.
On Sunday, Netanyahu received an endorsement from a well-known Republican: casino magnate and fierce Obama critic Donald Trump. But the announcement of the endorsement was delayed for two days and released after the Goldberg column, which reinforced accusations that Netanyahu was too close to the Republicans at the expense of the Democrats in charge of the White House.
“You truly have a great prime minister,” Trump said. “There is nobody like him. He is a winner, he is highly respected, he is highly thought of by all.”
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni tried to capitalize on the media frenzy created by Goldberg’s article at a Tel Aviv press conference.
“All of the people of Israel should have been woken up by Obama saying the prime minister was leading Israel to grave isolation,” Livni said.
“As an Israeli, it is hard for me to hear it, but it’s important to know that this is happening.
If people don’t change their vote, Netanyahu will continue leading us to isolation, violence and a worse economy, because it’s all connected.”
At the press conference, Livni presented a diplomatic plan that included cleaning Israel’s slate with Obama, receiving American assurances about Israel keeping settlement blocs and Palestinian refugees not returning, and beginning direct talks with the Palestinians with the involvement of the European Union, Turkey and the Arab League.
According to the plan, Israel would reach an agreement on borders of a demilitarized Palestinian state, but would not withdraw until security considerations for the West Bank and Gaza Strip were set with the Palestinians.
Livni declined to reveal what she gave up when she negotiated with the Palestinians as foreign minister.
“As someone who worked with world leaders, a peace deal is not in the sky,” Livni said. “If we don’t advance peace, the dangers will multiply, and the result will be disaster for Israel.”
She also blasted Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, saying that “the diplomatic negotiations and all diplomatic and security issues don’t interest her, and she doesn’t understand them.”
Yacimovich responded that Livni had been foreign minister for three years and hadn’t advanced the peace process by an inch.
“Not only are [Livni’s] contributions to the diplomatic process zero, her behavior is sabotaging chances of enabling me to replace Netanyahu and move the peace process forward,” Yacimovich said.