Global Policy Forum

Political Theatre Masks US-Israel Tensions

Will talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama lead to significant policy changes?  Many suspect that the meetings in D.C. will be more "window dressing" for an enduring and unshakable alliance between the two countries.  For decades, the US has given Israel preferential treatment in the Middle East-providing unparalleled military and economic assistance and supporting its policies, often at the expense of human rights.  Some argue that this "special relationship" shields Israel's actions from the stringent application of international legal standards.  But is the Obama Administration's support of Israel waning?  And if so, what does this show about the role of the US as the global hegemon?

By Jeremy Bowen

July 7, 2010


US President Barack Obama is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.

They are expected to discuss a range of issues, including Iran's nuclear programme and efforts to start direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The meeting comes a day after Israel confirmed it would allow more consumer goods to enter the Gaza Strip.

But it said items including weapons and materials that could have a military use would be barred or limited.

The White House, EU and Britain have welcomed the move as a "significant step" forward.

But Hamas, which has been controlling Gaza since 2007, dismissed the concessions as of no use and said the blockade should be fully lifted.

Israel says its blockade of the Palestinian territory is needed to prevent supply of weapons to Hamas.

'Better atmosphere'

Last week Mr Netanyahu said he believed that a main part of his talks in Washington would be "focused on how to start direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians right away".

The Palestinians broke off direct peace talks after Israel launched a military offensive on Gaza in late 2008.

The start of indirect negotiations in March was halted after Israeli municipal authorities approved plans for the construction of new homes in a settlement in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.

When the Israeli premier last visited the White House in March, he was snubbed by President Obama, who refused even to allow a photo of their meeting to be released.

That was because of a row over an Israeli settlement plan in East Jerusalem.

Both sides want the atmosphere this time to be much better, the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says.

He says Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu will have plenty to talk about: what comes next in the gathering storm over Iran's nuclear programme; the changing strategic picture in the Middle East, epitomised by Turkey's public falling out with the Israelis; and how to establish a credible peace process with the Palestinians.

However, he adds that - unlike his predecessor - President Obama is prepared to accept that some of Israel's actions are part of the problem in the Middle East. This continues to create irritation - and nervousness - on the Israeli side.

During his three-day US visit, Mr Netanyahu is expected to travel to New York, where he will meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and address Jewish American leaders.

US First Lady Michelle Obama has also taken the unusual step of inviting Mr Netanyahu's wife, Sara, for a visit to the White House, the Israeli media reported.

Gaza visit

Israel came under international pressure to ease its four-year blockade of Gaza after nine Turkish activists were killed in a 31 May Israeli raid on a flotilla that was trying to carry aid to the Palestinian territory.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton hailed it move as "another significant step forward in the review of [Israel's] policy on Gaza".

"This step shows that it is possible to lift the pressure on ordinary Gazans without compromising the security of ordinary Israelis," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

He urged all parties to work together to deliver "real change on the ground".

Meanwhile, a group of European foreign ministers said they would visit Gaza at Israel's invitation to monitor the implementation of Israel's plan to ease the blockade.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the ministers from Britain, France, Italy and Spain would go this month.



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