Wexler: Netanyahu can work well with Obama

Key Obama supporter tells 'Post' leaders could "work in concert toward achievement of mutual interests."

obama netanyahu 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
obama netanyahu 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
There is no doubt US President-elect Barack Obama could work well with Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu, should the latter become Israel's next prime minister, Congressman Robert Wexler, one of Obama's most prominent early supporters in the Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. Prefacing his comments with the caveat that he did not want to meddle in Israeli politics, and that it was up to Israelis to pick their leader, Wexler said, "I know that Obama and Netanyahu have met on at least two occasions. I was with Barack when he met with Netanyahu at National Airport in Washington a year-and-a-half ago. "I am confident that should he become the prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu would get along very well with Barack Obama, and the two of them would work in concert toward the achievement of mutual interests. I have no doubt about that." Wexler, a Democrat from Florida who is chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on Europe, was in Israel for some 36 hours for meetings. During this time he met with Netanyahu, as well as Mossad director Meir Dagan, Foreign Ministry officials, senior officials from Military Intelligence, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Wexler said that because of logistical issues he was not meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu's principal rival in the upcoming elections, or Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week in Washington. Wexler, who said at August's Democratic National Convention in Denver, "We know Barack Obama is the president America needs. He is also the leader and friend Israel needs," was very upbeat about the president-elect's choices for his national security team. They include Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and retired Marine Corps general James L. Jones as national security adviser. Clarifying that he did not speak for the Obama transition team or administration, Wexler said that "as someone who holds dear the relationship between the US and Israel, I am heartened by the entirety of the national security team that the president-elect has put in place. "From Israel's perspective I believe the message is straightforward," he said. "President-elect Obama has put in place a group of individuals who collectively will continue the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel, but will also bring a breadth of knowledge and expertise that will allow the Obama administration, from day one, to engage effectively in the Middle East. "The US will hopefully build upon the successes of the Bush administration, and will learn from the failures." Regarding Obama's selection of former assistant secretary of state for African affairs Susan Rice as US envoy to the UN, an appointment that was greeted by some officials in Jerusalem with far less enthusiasm than the selection of Clinton as secretary of state, Wexler said Israel had nothing to be concerned about. "One thing needs to be clear as day, and that is that the boss here is the president-elect, and the president-elect has an A-plus record on Israel," Wexler said. "His commitment to the very special relationship between the US and Israel is sacrosanct, and that will be demonstrated in each and every individual he has appointed to top national security and foreign policy positions. Period." Wexler, who was one of the Middle East advisers to the Obama campaign, said he didn't think Obama had decided whether he would appoint a special US Middle East envoy. "I believe that Obama understands the urgency of the situation in the Middle East, and will adopt the infrastructure that meets that urgency," he said. Asked about some expectation in Jerusalem that the tone of the relationship with the US could change as a result of Obama's election, and that the new administration might put more pressure on Israel regarding settlement construction, Wexler diplomatically replied that "these are issues [the settlements] that are going to be dealt with in the context of the broader issues. "I would not put it in the context of pressure, but in the context of hopefully reaching some new ground in terms of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. There will be responsibilities on both sides, and those responsibilities will need to be fulfilled," he said. Regarding Iran, Wexler said Obama's strategy was to "develop a set of leverage points" that would enable the US to deal with Teheran "from a position of strength." The US needed to "hone in" on issues such as limited or ending exports of refined petroleum products to the Islamic republic, enhancing financial sanctions, and "creating greater pressure on our European allies, as well as our allies in India, to eliminate the commercial activity between Europe, India, other nations, and Iran." Iran would be a top priority for the new administration, though the absolute top priority would be the US economy, Wexler said. "The war in Iran and in Afghanistan are [also] top priorities," he said. "But the new administration will not have the luxury of not acting with a sense of urgency regarding Iran."