Netanyahu hits back at Obama; White House spooked by nationalist party

Thursday, January 17, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

The Obama White House appears to be engaging in a very thinly veiled effort to influence next week's Knesset election by suggesting to Israelis that voting for right-wing parties will further strain US-Israel relations and isolate the Jewish state.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu politely suggested that the American administration butt out.

"Only the Israeli people will determine who best represents the State of Israel's vital interests," Netanyahu said during a tour of the Gaza security fence.

Earlier in the week, Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, wrote on the Bloomberg network that when Netanyahu recently announced plans to build new Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria in response to provocative Palestinian moves at the UN, Obama didn't even bother getting angry.

Goldberg noted that an "inured" Obama simply started telling people that "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are."

Netanyahu on Wednesday added that "over the past four years Israel has withstood tremendous diplomatic pressure [from the White House]. They insisted that we curb our demand for action on Iran; that we withdraw back to the 1967 lines; that we divide Jerusalem – that we stop building in Jerusalem."

It is generally understood that Israelis expect their leaders to be able to both withstand heavy pressure from the White House, while at the same time maintaining strong relations with America.

Obama's strategy seems to be to convince Israelis that Netanyahu is failing this mission, and the prime minister's political opponents are playing heavily on that theme.

But on this issue, Netanyahu is finding an ally in his top challenger to the right, Naftali Bennett, the new head of the Jewish Home party.

Bennett wrote on his Facebook page that "we will listen to the Americans, but we will do what is good for Israel."

Bennett noted that past prime ministers had succumbed to American pressure with devastating results. For instance, Ehud Barak was convinced by Bill Clinton to meet nearly all of Yasser Arafat's demands, only to be thanked with the outbreak of the "Second Intifada."

Under the charismatic Bennett, Jewish Home is expected to win up to 15 seats when Israelis go to the polls next week, and that has Washington worried as Netanyahu may have no choice but to include the nationalist party in his coalition.

According to Israel's Channel 10 News, the Obama Administration is worried that a strong showing by Jewish Home will ultimately bolster Netanyahu's resolve to continue allowing Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.

In a meeting with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro on Wednesday, Channel 10 quoted Bennett as telling the envoy, "There is no chance that the projected Netanyahu government will go for any sort of agreement with the Palestinians."

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