Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to the United States this week damaged Israel diplomatically, undermined the country's relations with the U.S. administration and showed Netanyahu up again as a rejectionist who does nothing but look for excuses and delays to avoid making decisions.
Netanyahu flew to the annual conference of the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans; from there he went on to New York. Strengthening ties with Diaspora Jewry is certainly a worthy cause, but Netanyahu took advantage of the stage he was given to embarrass the Obama administration.
His public call on the Americans to create a "credible military threat" against Iran merely exposed the disagreements between him and the administration, portraying Israel as a warmonger trying to drag America into another entanglement in the Middle East. No wonder Netanyahu's declaration evoked a dismissive response from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Netanyahu focused on issuing warnings about Iran and the "delegitimization" of Israel, pushing the peace process with the Palestinians to the sidelines. His messages sounded coordinated with the scandalous speech by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the UN General Assembly.
Then came the reports about Israel's approval of large construction plans in Har Homa and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods. Netanyahu again found himself in a public controversy with U.S. President Barack Obama and insulted Vice President Joe Biden, shortly after Biden had praised him enthusiastically in a speech.
Netanyahu was then forced to have "clarification talks" with Biden, whom he had embarrassed in similar circumstances only eight months ago with the declaration of the building plan in East Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood during the vice president's visit to the capital.
Toward the end of the visit, Netanyahu hinted he would agree to an additional construction freeze in the settlements, but in exchange for some far-reaching demands. He wants extensive American security assistance and all the Arab states (apart from Saudi Arabia ) to sign peace agreements with Israel at the same time as the Palestinians.
Netanyahu apparently tried to show that the Republicans' victory in the congressional elections rendered him immune to the administration's pressures and that he had the upper hand in the controversy over the settlements. This is a shortsighted approach that endangers Israel's interests. Israel needs a steadfast friendship with the United States.
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