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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

U.S. to ‘Re-Evaluate’ Mideast Peace Strategy - Obama and Netanyahu differ starkly on Iran and Middle East peace policy

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The Israeli election results set Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama on a collision course in coming months over a series of high-stakes decisions on Iran policy and the Middle East peace process.

The White House upended decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday when it left open the possibility that it might not use its veto in the United Nations Security Council to shield Israel from unfavorable resolutions, such as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The dramatic shift came in response to Mr. Netanyahu’s hard political turn to the right in the final hours of the campaign, marked by an abrupt reversal of his endorsement of a separate Palestinian state. Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu, whose tattered relationship has come to define U.S.-Israel ties, clashed again over the longtime effort to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The White House now sees no chance for restarting peace talks while the two leaders remain in office.

The unexpected step by the Obama administration came as aides to the president said he is rethinking U.S. strategy on the Middle East peace process. They said it was a reaction to Mr. Netanyahu’s decisions during the campaign to oppose formation of a Palestinian state, to endorse settlement activity in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem and to warn that a large turnout of Arab Israeli voters threatened his grip on power.

The Israeli leader’s comments on Arab Israelis were particularly disconcerting to the White House.

“The United States and this administration are deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.”

The U.S. is stressing that there will be no change in military, intelligence and security cooperation.

Danny Danon, a member of parliament from Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Israel’s allies will have to respect the decision of the Israeli voters, whom he said have shifted toward rejecting the goal of a peace deal that establishes a Palestinian state.

The U.S. has several options for taking action at the U.N. Security Council, from refusing to veto resolutions related to the Palestinians to introducing a measure of its own.

“We’re not going to get ahead of any decisions about what we would do with regard to potential action at the U.N. Security Council,” said a senior administration official, adding: “There are policy ramifications to the positions that he took.”

While Mr. Netanyahu is considered likely to interpret the outcome of Tuesday’s election as an endorsement for his combative strategy toward the Obama administration on talks with Iran, Israel also faces deepening tension and isolation in its relations with the U.S. and Europe over his position on the peace process, according to several Israeli analysts, former officials and government advisers.

The European Union is likely to press for U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israel over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, a policy Mr. Netanyahu has pursued during his nine years in office, said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the EU and Jordan.

Israel, Mr. Eran added, is also certain to face diplomatic resistance if the new Israeli parliament adopts legislation, recommended by Mr. Netanyahu, to declare Israel to be a state for Jews. No such provision currently exists, and the country’s Arab minority views the proposed change as an affront.

Sabri Saidam, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Palestinians must now respond to Mr. Netanyahu’s rejection of statehood by presenting a more united front and pressing their case before the International Criminal Court.

The authority, which governs the West Bank, applied to join the ICC late last year, drawing condemnation from Mr. Netanyahu. The move would allow Palestinians to lodge war-crimes charges against Israel over its building of settlements in the West Bank and its military operations in the Gaza Strip.


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