Wexler: Obama, Netanyahu not headed for clash

Close Obama ally, Israel supporter Rep. Robert Wexler tells 'Post': Saudi Arabia's 'free ride' is over.

Netanyahu under pressure 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Netanyahu under pressure 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama are not headed for a "train wreck," but rather will "figure out how to work collaboratively" during their meeting next week, US Congressman Robert Wexler, a close political ally of Obama and a stalwart Israel supporter, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Wexler, who in March 2007 was the first Jewish politician outside of Obama's home state of Illinois to endorse his presidential campaign, said after emerging from a meeting with Netanyahu that both the prime minister and Obama understand that "cooperatively we can enhance each other's strategic interest, better than we can separately." Wexler, a liberal Democrat from South Florida, dismissed concern that has been reflected in the media in recent weeks that Israeli-US ties are headed for a crisis. "I can say unequivocally that the anxiety is not warranted," said Wexler, who has spoken to the US president about Middle East issues, and speaks regularly with top White House staffers dealing with the matter, including National Security Adviser Gen. (ret.) James Jones. He arrived in Israel on Friday for a series of meetings in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian Authority, and will return to Washington on Monday. "I am in constant contact with those in the administration responsible for policy in this region, and nothing could be further from the truth," he said, regarding reports that the US and Israel are on a collision course. "As someone who was with Barack Obama from the very beginning of his campaign, I am not going to be surprised or fall prey to the too often false representation of now President Obama; and likewise I think the degree of angst also misrepresents Prime Minister Netanyahu's policies as well," said Wexler, who spoke of Obama's pro-Israeli credentials as one of the featured speakers at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer. "These two men are not headed for a train wreck," he said. "They are not. Both men want the relationship to be as strong, if not stronger - if that is possible - than it has been in the past." Wexler, who has been in Congress since 1997, has a long-standing relationship with Netanyahu, as well as with Obama. Wexler said that while he did not expect Obama to pressure Netanyahu in their meeting next Monday, but rather to lay out his view of US policy toward Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian track, he did expect the US under Obama to get considerably tougher with the Saudis. "The Saudis have had a bit of a free ride in Washington of late," Wexler said. "They get to argue that they proposed the Arab peace initiative. I think that most Israelis have issues, exceptions, to the Arab peace initiative, and so do I, and we, in America. But it is time to test them." He said it was time to say to Saudi King Abdullah, "You have provided an outline to normalization and how we get there. Israel has put forth some idea in terms of what they can do. What are you willing to do, King Abdullah? We are not going to only hear from you only at the end of the process, that is not how you build trust on the Israel and American sides. What, King Abdullah, are you willing to do next week?" Wexler said that, rather inexplicably, the Saudis had not made good on financial pledges and commitments to bolster the PA and the government of Fuad Saniora in Lebanon. While the Saudi failure to help the moderates in the PA and in Lebanon was counterintuitive and counterproductive, that was exactly what was happening on the ground, he said. "Some people have suggested that the Saudis are entertaining a new dynamic or relationship with Syria that would result in Syria being less attached to Iran. But as laudable as that goal may be, it is a bizarre way to try to achieve it," Wexler said. "People say very loosely that Israelis must take risks for peace," he added. "Well, what risk is the king of Saudi Arabia willing to take? And if he is not willing to take any risk for peace, then what does he bring to the table?" he asked. The US would not only call out the Saudis about this, but "insist" on the Saudis taking immediate action to show their commitment to the diplomatic process. The Obama administration, he said, "will insist upon it to the point where if it is not met with a satisfactory response, then we will find out once and for all what value Saudi Arabia and the Arab League present to this process. And it is better to learn that early, not late." Despite linkage some key Obama administration figures have made in recent weeks between progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track and stopping Iran's nuclear march, Wexler said there was no "package." "There is no quid pro quo, there is no package," he said. "However, it would be absurd to conclude that progress or lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track does not have ramifications or impact upon the ability to be successful in thwarting Iran's nuclear program." It would be naïve, he said, "to think that issues that are happening at the same time do not impact on one another." But he did not think Obama would "pressure" Netanyahu. "I think President Obama will present a compelling case as to the direction the US will take with regard to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian track, and will listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu make his case, and the two leaders will figure out how we will work collaboratively. I don't think it is a question of pressure," Wexler said. Alluding to the large number of US-Israeli meetings that have been taking place in recent weeks in preparation for the Obama-Netanyahu talks, Wexler said, "I think the communication between the parties has been open and clear enough that both principals understand the parameters in which they are operating, and will make certain at the end of their meeting and in their public statement that they are close enough to be able to demonstrate to the world that Israel and the US continue to have an unbreakable bond, and that collaboratively we will pursue on mutual interests." Wexler said Obama would present Netanyahu with "an American policy with respect to Iran that is designed to thwart the Iranian nuclear program." No one in Washington had come to terms with an Iranian nuclear weapon, and "there is no contingency plan that is being operated upon in Washington regarding acceptance of an Iranian nuclear program, just the opposite. America is implementing a process of carrots and sticks, of engagement with Iran that respects the urgency of the situation and which I believe will be time-limited," he said. Obama would provide Netanyahu with "clarity" on the issue at their meeting, even if he didn't give a precise date as to when the engagement with Iran would end if the Iranians did not end their uranium enrichment, Wexler said. "I think the president is going to lay out a strong policy of engagement that is rooted in realism, and predicated on the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable to the United States," he said. "And I think he is going to outline a policy that has one design, and that is to provide both the incentives and consequences of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons." Asked whether he thought Obama would give an okay for military action if his policy failed, Wexler said, "I don't think we need to address that hypothetical situation yet, other than to say that the president has said repeatedly that a military option with respect to an Iranian nuclear program is not off the table, and I don't know how more direct he could be in a responsible fashion than that."