Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is worried that the Obama administration will use its final weeks in office to back UN Security Council decisions and other measures detrimental to Israel, Army Radio reported on Sunday.
Netanyahu has therefore been trying to persuade his ministerial colleagues to approve a series of measures to boost the West Bank economy and show Israel’s commitment to improving the Palestinians’ lives, but has been stymied by opposition in the security cabinet by ministers including Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Ze’ev Elkin, the report said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan of the prime minister’s Likud party told the radio station Sunday morning, however, that he did not believe the Obama administration would back or fail to veto UN resolutions supporting Palestinian statehood or similar measures to impose terms. “It’s inconceivable that President Obama has any such intention,” said Erdan, “given that he and his administration emphasize that the solution to the conflict requires direct negotiations and compromise between the two sides themselves.”
Erdan also said he would personally back measures to improve the quality of life for the Palestinians in the territories, and that he believed Netanyahu would be able to secure majority support in the security cabinet, of which he is a member, for such measures if and when needed.
The Army Radio report, which gave no named sources, said Netanyahu’s concern about possible Obama administration decisions was focused on the period between November 2016, when a new president is chosen, and January 2017, when that president takes office. Given the history of difficult relations between the two countries’ leaderships, this period would constitute a brief window when the Obama administration could advance its agenda without domestic repercussions, the report said.
The Army Radio report followed hard on the heels of a similar claim on Saturday night, broadcast on Channel 2, to the effect that US Secretary of State John Kerry would visit Israel within weeks, that he would seek to restart peace talks, and that if he failed, the Obama administration might try to impose some kind of accord in the final months of the Obama presidency — after a new US president has been elected, and before Obama steps down.
The US State Department later Saturday evening flatly dismissed most of the TV claims. Responding on Twitter to the Times of Israel’s coverage of the Channel 2 report, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the secretary had “no plans… to travel soon to Israel. Also no plan by him to restart talks.”
“Need both sides to reduce violence,” Kirby added in the tweet.
— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) February 6, 2016
Kirby did not address the claims about unilateral moves Obama might make or back in the final weeks of his presidency.
The Channel 2 report appeared to be based, at least in part, on its interview earlier Saturday with opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Herzog said the Obama administration “hasn’t given up on the [Israeli-Palestinian] process,” and that he believed Kerry “may come here soon” to try again to move things forward. Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party, met with Kerry in Rome on Tuesday.
Herzog said many world leaders were discussing the deadlocked process and considering ideas, of which some “could be to Israel’s detriment.” Israel could face “decisions from all directions,” he said, noting that last week’s threat by France to recognize a Palestinian state if it fails in its planned new attempt to restart peace talks and reach an accord “didn’t come out of nowhere.”
If Israel didn’t take the initiative, Herzog said, “we’ll have an accord imposed upon us.” He noted that, in the final year of the Obama presidency, the president “can do what he wants.”
Herzog said he wasn’t sure the Americans had yet decided what they want to attempt. But “when you hear that world leaders want to take unilateral decisions,” he said, it underlined the imperative for Israel to “initiate moves that will boost its own security.”