Israel's Netanyahu comes in for criticism in wake of Obama win

 

Jerusalem

The re-election of President Barack Obama has left Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly vulnerable as Israel's own national election campaign begins to gather steam.

A strong favorite to win the Jan. 22 vote, Netanyahu is coming under criticism from political rivals who accuse him of having tilted toward Mitt Romney and alienated Obama, who as a second-term president could take a firmer stance toward Israel.

Opposition politicians are charging that Netanyahu — who has publicly confronted Obama over policy toward Iran and peace efforts with the Palestinians — is jeopardizing Israel's long-standing alliance with the United States.

Netanyahu, who as head of the right-leaning Likud party plans to campaign on a platform of safeguarding Israel's national security, has made several conciliatory gestures toward Obama in the days since the U.S. election, in an apparent effort to smooth over differences.

On Thursday, Netanyahu called Obama to congratulate him and pledged to "continue working together." On Wednesday, he summoned the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, for a televised congratulatory meeting and declared that security relations between the two countries were "rock solid."

Responding to his critics, Netanyahu charged Thursday that they were making a futile effort to "stir up trouble between us and the United States" and said that the two nations' alliance remained strong.

Still, in an election that is likely to also be a referendum on his threat to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Netanyahu's campaign now has a weak spot, according to several analysts.

"Netanyahu is vulnerable on national security and foreign policy, because the opposition will argue that given his bad relationship with Obama and given the need to make critical decisions about Iran in the spring or the summer, he should be replaced," said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israeli relations at Bar-Ilan University.

Netanyahu publicly challenged Obama in September to take a more aggressive stance toward Iran, saying those who were not ready to draw "red lines" with Iran over its nuclear program did not have the "moral right" to prevent Israel from taking military action.

Obama's call in May 2011 for a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on Israel's 1967 borders got an icy reception from Netanyahu, who lectured Obama on the subject in the Oval Office. The two had clashed earlier over Israel's settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The two leaders' tense relationship has invited comparisons to the rift between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President George H.W. Bush over Israeli settlement construction in the early 1990s. That diplomatic showdown set the stage for Shamir's subsequent electoral defeat.

Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister who is weighing a political comeback as the head of a centrist bloc even as he faces an appeal of his acquittal on corruption charges, told Jewish leaders in New York on Wednesday that Netanyahu had become a liability in relations with Washington.

"Following what Netanyahu has done in the last few months, the question is whether our prime minister has a friend in the White House," Olmert said, according to an account from an aide that was published in Israeli media. "I am not sure of that, and it could be very significant to us at critical points."

Yitzhak Herzog, a lawmaker from the left-of-center Labor Party, predicted that the lack of close relations between Obama and Netanyahu at a time of approaching "fateful decisions" will be "a problem for Netanyahu in the public."

Shaul Mofaz, leader of the centrist Kadima party, told the Israeli television station Channel 2 that Netanyahu had "definitely caused damage" by seeming to bet on a Romney victory. "I think that a prime minister in Israel doesn't do two things," Mofaz said. "He doesn't interfere in the elections in the U.S. and he doesn't gamble on one of the candidates."

Yet many of Netanyahu's backers in Israel argue that the source of the problem is what they call Obama's cool stance toward the prime minister, who they say is simply defending the country's vital interests.

Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the opposition's focus on relations with the United States is a "double-edged sword." While Israelis value those ties, Diskin said, many have rallied behind Netanyahu in times of confrontation and believe that he has emerged with the upper hand.

Some Israeli commentators have speculated since Obama's victory that he might repay Netanyahu in kind by indirectly endorsing his opponents in the Israeli election or take a tough line on advancing peace efforts with the Palestinians. Others predict that the chill in relations will only deepen.

"The American commitment to Israel's security and continued existence will not change," wrote Sima Kadmon, a columnist for the widely circulated Yediot Ahronot daily. "But regarding anything beyond that — there will be a cold shoulder."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions