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New column on Obama feeds Israeli election campaign

January 15, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • Tzipi Livni, head of Israel's Movement party and candidate for parliament who favors peace with the Palestinians, called a report that the White House is unhappy with Israel "a wake-up call for Israelis."
Tzipi Livni, head of Israel's Movement party and candidate for parliament… (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images )

JERUSALEM -- Critical comments about Israel's current leaders attributed to President Obama played into Israel's upcoming elections Tuesday as candidates quickly incorporated the message into their campaign.

In a column for Bloomberg news service, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg described grim attitudes toward Israel in the White House, including harsh criticism of the country's settlement policies and a bleak forecast for its future if Israel continues on its present course.

According to Goldberg, Obama said repeatedly in private conversations that "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are" and that each new announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of settlement expansions is leading Israel down the path of near-total isolation.

The comments and attitudes reported by Goldberg follow the United Nations vote in November to upgrade the Palestinians' status in the international body to "nonmember observer state" and Netanyahu's subsequent announcement of construction in the West Bank just east of Jerusalem that drew sharp criticism from most nations.

With only a week to go before general elections in Israel, the Bloomberg report was not lost on candidates. This is "a wake-up call for Israelis," said Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister running for parliament on a platform stressing that peace with the Palestinians is vital to Israel's interests.

Livni has frequently attacked Netanyahu's government for alienating Israel from the rest of the world, including Israel's closest ally. The U.S. is both Israel's biggest friend and "a central part of Israel's national security," Livni said Tuesday during a new conference on her party's plans for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, a process in which the U.S. would probably play a vital role.

The Bloomberg column fed into the ongoing infighting between the center-left parties. Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich blasted Livni's peace plan as "empty words" and warned that Livni would further damage the peace process by "joining Netanyahu's government and serving as a fig leaf for continued diplomatic stalemate."

Yachimovich has pledged her party will not join the next government if headed by Netanyahu. Livni, leading the new Movement party, has refused to make a similar public commitment.

Netanyahu's ruling Likud party blamed opposition politicians for harming Israel's international standing by criticizing the government. 

Education Minister Gideon Saar dismissed claims that the prime minister had undermined relations with the United States, telling Israeli radio that Netanyahu is entrusted with ensuring Israel's interests "including relations with the U.S." and is capable and experienced in diplomatic work with Obama.

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