U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, along with the conditions Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set for establishing a Palestinian state, have made it harder for the United States to continue defending Israel at the United Nations against European initiatives. In saying this, Obama hinted that the U.S. may withhold its veto on the French initiative to transfer a decision on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the UN Security Council.
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Obama made the comments in an interview with Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan on the Channel 2 show "Uvda" (Fact), which aired Tuesday evening.
Shortly after the show was aired cabinet ministers and deputy ministers were instructed by Israel's Government Secretariat not to talk to the media or comment in any way on Obama's interview.
During the interview, Obama reflected on Netanyahu's statement in the lead up to Israel's March election that a Palestinian state would not be established under his premiership, calling it "unequivocal." Obama added that while Netanyahu subsequently suggested it could be possible to establish a Palestinian state, these latter comments sounded like they were made in an effort to return to the status quo.
Netanyahu's statements included "so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met anytime in the near future," Obama said. "The danger here is that Israel as a whole loses credibility, " he added. "Already, the international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution. The statement the prime minister made compounded this belief."
The U.S. president also clarified remarks he made in an interviw with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, in which he said that Netanyahu's anti-Arab remarks on Election Day would have consequences for America's foreign policy.
"Let's be very specific" regarding the "practical consequence that I referred to [in the Goldberg interview]," Obama said to Dayan: "Up until this point we have pushed away against European efforts for example, or other efforts. Because we've said, the only way this gets resolved is if the two parties worked together," said Obama. "Well, here's the challenge. If in fact, there's no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there's a peace process, then it becomes more difficult, to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation, it's more difficult for me to say to them, 'Be patient. Wait, because we have a process here,' because all they need to do is to point to the statements that have been made to say, 'There is no process.'"
Obama clarified that he does not foresee a "framework agreement" between Israel and the Palestinians being possible in the current climate. "I don't see the likelihood of us being able to emerge from Camp David or some other process and hold hands" in victory, he said.
Obama rejected the claim that tensions between him and Netanyahu are personal. This despite expressing harsh criticism of Netanyahu for addressing the U.S. Congress prior to the Israeli elections, referring to Israel's democratic values and what he called the "politics of fear."
The U.S. president said he has put the Congress-speech saga in the past, but in the same breath stated that he would not have behaved like Netanyahu did. "I think it's fair to say that if I showed up at the Knesset without checking with the prime minister first, if I had negotiated with Mr. Herzog, there would be a sense that some protocols had been breached."
Obama told Dayan that he enjoys "jousting" with Netanyahu during their meetings and despite their conversations being "tough" and "forceful," they are still good conversations.
"There's no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu and I come from different political traditions and have different orientations. I am less worried about any particular disagreement that I have with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I am more worried about Israeli politics that's motivated only by fear. And that then leads to a loss of those core values that, when I was young and I was admiring Israel from afar, were the essence of this nation. There are things that you can lose, that don't just involve rockets."
Obama said Netanyahu is "skeptical about the capacity of Israelis and Palestinians to come together on behalf of peace," but added: "I think that he is also a politician who's concerned about keeping coalitions together and maintaining his office."