Obama team readying for confrontation with Netanyahu
U.S. officials tell lawmakers clash likely over PM's refusal to support two-state solution.
In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is readying for a possible confrontation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by briefing Democratic congressmen on the peace process and the positions of the new government in Israel regarding a two-state solution.
The Obama administration is expecting a clash with Netanyahu over his refusal to support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
In recent weeks, American officials have briefed senior Democratic congressmen and prepared the ground for the possibility of disagreements with Israel over the peace process, according to information recently received. The administration's efforts are focused on President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, which now holds a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The preemptive briefing is meant to foil the possibility that Netanyahu may try to bypass the administration by rallying support in Congress.
The message that administration officials have relayed to the congressmen is that President Obama is committed to the security of Israel and intends to continue the military assistance agreement that was signed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
However, Obama considers the two-state solution central to his Middle East policy, as he reiterated during a speech in Turkey on Monday, and he intends to ask that Netanyahu fulfill all the commitments made by previous governments in Israel: accepting the principle of a Palestinian state; freezing settlement activity; evacuating illegal outposts; and providing economic and security assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
Administration officials made it clear to congressmen that the Palestinians will also be required to fulfill their obligations in line with the road map and the Annapolis process.
According to the reports received in Israel, the U.S. administration is not concerned about recent statements by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for a rejection of the Annapolis process or overtures made by Netanyahu during the election campaign.
U.S. officials say they will wait and hear Netanyahu's position from the prime minister himself when he meets Obama in Washington next month.
No hurry to play mediator
The Obama administration is also not opposed to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria but will insist that the Syrian track not be used in Jerusalem as a way of evading obligations undertaken by Israel as part of the Annapolis process.
Obama is in no hurry to bring the U.S. in as lead mediator between Israel and Syria. American involvement, which both Israel and Syria consider essential for substantive progress, will remain conditional on progress in the dialogue between Washington and Damascus.
Regarding Iran, the Obama administration is preparing the ground for a policy distinguishing between Iran's right to have nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment done under international supervision, and the actual building of a nuclear weapon.