Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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A dark shadow of distrust and suspicion between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama hangs over the prime minister as he mounts the rostrum at the United Nations General Assembly today in New York. The difference of opinion between the two men on the issue of Iran's nuclear program has injected itself into the American presidential election campaign and has become an open rift.

In a speech Tuesday before that same UN body, Obama refrained from giving Iran an ultimatum, as Netanyahu has demanded. Obama did reiterate his rejection of a policy that would allow containment of nuclear weapons in Iranian hands, but he made it clear that he also believed there was still time for diplomatic efforts on the issue.

Prior to his UN appearance, Obama abandoned diplomatic language in calling pressure from Netanyahu to draw "red lines" background noise. The American president told an interviewer that he was determined to ignore "background noise" of this kind and concentrate instead on pursuing his country's best interests. In his own speech at the opening of the General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he rejected outright any threat of military action by one country against another, and warned of the consequences of any such attack.

When Obama addressed the Palestinian issue in his General Assembly speech, he did not express agreement with the Israeli prime minister's policies. The U.S. president did not accept the Israeli perspective that the turmoil in the Middle East requires insistence on a wait-and-see approach. He took exception to those who would turn their backs on the prospect of peace between Israel and an independent Palestinian state.

Obama's comments contained no echo of Netanyahu's argument that blame for the stalemate in negotiations rests solely at the doorstep of the Palestinians. Earlier in the session, Secretary Ban told his General Assembly audience that expansion of settlements in the occupied territories undermines efforts to achieve peace.

Responsibility for the dispute with the United States on the Iranian issue, the stalled peace process and the coming confrontation in the territories rests on Netanyahu's shoulders. It would be appropriate for Netanyahu not to continue portraying Israel as a victim or to fling blame in every direction and revel in applause from the Republican camp.

One hopes that Netanyahu will take advantage of his platform at the United Nations to present a credible peace initiative and an effort to repair relations with Israel's most important ally.