Tuesday's Oval Office meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the subsequent press conference appeared to go well, but right-wing Israeli lawmakers said they remain wary of the American leader.
Obama and Netanyahu discussed, among other things, Iran's nuclear program and the upcoming expiration of Israel's settlement building freeze.
Though it was self-imposed, Netanyahu declared the building freeze under heavy US pressure. The White House hoped the gesture would prompt the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. That hasn't happened, and many of Netanyahu's ministers and supporters are demanding he let the 10-month freeze expire in September.
During Tuesday's press conference, Obama dodged questions regarding the expiration of the freeze, but did say he believed direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians could only begin during such a freeze, hinting that it must not expire until that goal is reached.
Ayoub Kara, an Israeli Druze deputy minister from Netanyahu's Likud Party, wasn't convinced by what he characterized as Obama's diplomatic charade.
"He doesn’t sound evil now because he needs Jewish votes and money," Kara told The Jerusalem Post. "But I won’t forget the pressure he put on Netanyahu and the stress I saw in the prime minister the last time he came back from Washington. He is acting the way he is for political reasons."
Netanyahu last visited Washington in late May, and was scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House. But the Israeli leader was told to stay away after Israeli commandos intercepted a violent humanitarian aid flotilla trying to break the maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip. Just days earlier, Obama had tacitly supported a Non-Proliferation Treaty summit that ignored Iran's defiant nuclear program and instead demanded Israel submit itself to nuclear inspections.
Another Likud lawmaker, Danny Dannon, said he thinks Obama is finally realizing that he can't man-handle Israel, but cautioned that the president is still misappropriating his focus when it comes to restarting peace talks.
"[Obama] is wrong if he thinks the [settlement building] freeze must continue for direct talks to begin. He instead must pressure the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table, regardless of the freeze," said Dannon. "He sounds nice now but after November, I am worried that he will sound different."
Obama's Democratic Party is in danger of losing control of the two houses of Congress in mid-term elections this fall, and Israelis believe he is playing nice with Israel until then in order to influence the votes of American Jews and Christians who support the Jewish state.
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