World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder.
Ronald Lauder. Photo by AP
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World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who in the past was considered one of Benjamin Netanyahu's biggest donors and supporters, lashed out at the prime minister's diplomatic policy Monday night. He made the comments in a speech to Jewish members of parliament from around the world as they attended a conference in Jerusalem.

The remarks were made against the background of a serious rift that has recently developed between the two men.

Addressing the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians at a conference that was closed to journalists, Lauder said Israel must present a diplomatic plan in order to regain international support and block Palestinian efforts to obtain unilateral recognition for statehood from the UN in September.

It could be that such an initiative would amount to committing political suicide for Netanyahu, but it would send the ball back into the Palestinian court, he said, according to a Hebrew translation of his remarks released afterward by a conference spokesman.

The original English speech was not released for publication.

Lauder also criticized the conditions Netanyahu has set for talks, saying the only way Israel can escape its international isolation is to agree to begin negotiations without preconditions. The international community couldn't care less about Netanyahu's domestic political problems, he said.

There are already 133 countries that plan to vote in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in September, he warned, and Israel must do everything possible to prevent this from happening.

Lauder's remarks are significant mainly because he has long been one of the international Jewish leaders considered closest to Netanyahu, and because he is thought to have relatively conservative views on the Palestinian issue. During Netanyahu's first term as premier in the 1990s, Lauder even served as his secret envoy to then-Syrian President Hafez Assad.

His criticism is also noteworthy because Lauder is known as a fierce critic of U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East policies. Less than six weeks ago, the WJC president issued a statment blasting Obama's Middle East policy address on May 19, saying Obama's call for negotiations to take place on the basis of the 1967 lines (with territorial swaps ) endangered Israel.

Since Netanyahu took office two years ago, Lauder has sent letters to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the administration to stop pressuring Israel over the settlement issue. He also took out several huge newspaper advertisements in which he attacked Obama and defended Netanyahu; he later said he obtained Netanyahu's approval before publishing these ads.

In recent weeks, however, their relationship has been tense. Netanyahu did not attend last week's annual meeting of the WJC in Jerusalem, as he has in previous years, cancelling at the last minute.

Daily newspaper Maariv reported last week that Netanyahu canceled his appearance because he was furious that Lauder - a major shareholder in the Channel 10 television station - did not prevent the broadcast of a series of investigative reports about overseas trips of Netanyahu's that were financed by private individuals or organizations. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, apparently viewed this as a personal insult, and the cancelation was meant to signal his displeasure.