Netanyahu Rallies Israel's Right With Rejection of Obama Mideast Policy

PM secures support of his rightist coalition and Likud party, and even the leftmost pole of his government, Ehud Barak, sends him a message of support.

After two days packed with meetings and peaking with his confrontation with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged stronger within Likud and became a uniting force for the Israeli right.

Netanyahu's adamant rejection of Obama's "1967 borders" speech restored calm to the right-wing coalition he heads; even the leftmost pole of his government, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, sent him a message of support Saturday.

Benjamin Netanyahu at an April 2010 Likud meeting in Tel Aviv. Alon Ron
Alon Ron

"I don't think that the president's speech was such a bad thing," Barak said in an interview on Saturday with Israel's Channel 2 television news. "I think it's good that the prime minister brought attention to the fact that we expect the recognition of settlement blocs and that we want the refugees to be absorbed within the Palestinian state," Barak said.

"I don't think that the president said it was necessary to return to the 1967 lines, but rather that we need to start the discussion based on the 1967 borders," Barak said, stressing that the gaps between the United States and Israel on the peace process were smaller than they seemed. "[The Netanyahu-Obama meeting at the White House Friday] was a lot less dramatic than it appeared," Barak said. "I think the Americans know well the nuances of our positions."

Barak went on to explain that he is staying in the coalition as a guarantor for negotiations with the Palestinians.

The rightmost poles of Netanyahu's coalition government, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, saw to it that the political front remained calm.

"Israel cannot permit itself to return to the 1967 borders, which are indefensible, or to a process in which it is giving more territory to the Palestinians," Ya'alon said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon sounded a reassuring note Saturday. Like Barak, said he did not interpret the interchange between Obama and Netanyahu as a confrontation. "Obama's speech was positive for Israel, since he remained committed to Israel as a Jewish state and even demanded that the Palestinians explain the reconciliation agreement with Hamas," Ayalon said.

A senior source in Likud, speaking Saturday about the prime minister's right-wing coalition partners, said: "Netanyahu passed them on the right. No one can say he took a hard left. That's why no one on the right attacked him."