Tensions Rise

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There’s an important article today in Ha-aretz about the rising tensions between Israel and the US over the settlement issue. Among other things, it confirms Laura Rozen’s reporting from last week. Here’s a key passage …

Tensions between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are nearing crisis levels after senior American officials harshly criticized the prime minister and his settlements policies on Monday.

“The Israelis apparently wanted to check if we are serious on settlements, and they found out that we are,” a senior official told Haaretz. “This has nothing to do with the speech in Cairo, and it’s going to be our position after the speech in Cairo, because we believe it’s in Israel’s long-term security interests.”

Last night Defense Minister Ehud Barak met in New York with the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. The American told Barak that the U.S. was no longer willing to return to the understandings between the Sharon and Olmert governments and the Bush administration, which allowed continued settlement construction.

Mitchell said the administration was particularly unhappy about the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to recognize the principle of two states for two peoples.

You’ll definitely want to read the whole Ha-aretz article. It dovetails with and gives more background on the points Obama made in his interview with NPR.

There’s no shortage of discussion of the fact that there’s a strong Israel lobby in the US which can exercise a great deal of pressure when a US administration applies pressure on Israel. What gets much less discussion in the US is the other side of this complex relationship. No Israeli government can last for long if it gets seriously out of step with an incumbent US administration, especially if that administration is popular at home. Indeed, over the last two decades, two Likud governments have fallen in substantial measure because they had gotten out of step with the US and were perceived in Israel as having failed to manage the US relationship — the Shamir government in the early 90s and the first Netanyahu government in the late 1990s. As many other commentators have noted, failing to keep the US-Israel relationship on track is something akin to the ‘third rail’ of Israeli politics.

Keep watching closely.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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