Obama visit to Israel aimed at influencing coalition talks?

Thursday, February 07, 2013 |  Israel Today Staff

Having failed to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by turning Israeli voters against him before the election, some believe US President Obama's upcoming visit to Israel was timed to influence the make-up of Netanyahu's next coalition.

Obama has yet to visit Israel during his time as president, despite having been to the region several times since taking office in 2009. But this week, the White House suddenly announced that the Jewish state would be on the itinerary when Obama flies to the Middle East next month.

Immediately Israeli media outlets began speculating that the American president was trying to pressure Netanyahu to include left-leaning parties in his coalition, so as to make it easier to strong-arm Israel into giving more concessions to the Palestinians.

This is "inappropriate interference," a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party said.

That source told Ha'aretz that Netanyahu will be wary of humiliating Obama by forming a right-wing government before the president's arrival, and therefore Obama's visit is strengthening the coalition negotiation position of centrist and left-wing parties like Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid.

Obama would also like to see Tzipi Livni's new left-leaning Hatnuah party in the government, and reports are that Netanyahu is strongly considering meeting Livni's demand of putting her in charge of the peace process.

As foreign minister in the government preceding Netanyahu's, Livni advocating meeting nearly all Palestinian demands regarding the land, even going so far on occasion as to support the division of Jerusalem.

In remarks to the Jerusalem Post, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro dismissed the speculation as nonsense.

"Obviously we don't play a role and have no intention of interfering in Israeli coalition negotiations," Shapiro insisted.

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