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6 Jul, 2010 21:27

Israeli PM meets Obama amid souring relations

President Obama says the bond between Israel and the US is “unbreakable.” The comments were made at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington over the stalled Middle East peace process.

Netanyahu’s visit comes as relations between the two countries have suffered over extending Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories as well as Israel's attack on the Gaza aid flotilla in May.

The visit follows Israel’s unprecedented decision to ease the widely-condemned Gaza blockade, allowing consumer goods to enter the Gaza strip.

Obama praised the move.

However, Norman Finkelstein, author of  "A Farewell to Israel: The Coming Breakup of American Zionism," calls the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu a “cynical photo-op,” saying Obama has been faced with pressure from Jewish Democrats running for office in the upcoming mid-term congressional elections.

They were worried about whether or not Jewish contributors to the national Democratic Party would be giving as much money as usual,” explained Finkelstein.

An expert on the Middle Eastern at New York University, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, says Israel's decision to ease the Gaza blockade has come at the right time.

“The blockade did not work,” he said. “If anything, it has strengthened Hamas rather than weakened them, and Israel came to this conclusion. The flotilla incident instigated this whole campaign against the blockade and it’s time for Israel to reconsider its policies toward Gaza.”

Obama and Netanyahu discussed a number of issues, including the resumption of face-to-face talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Critics in the US say the world now expects President Obama to take a firm stance towards its ally, who they say has repeatedly violated international law.

“I think the main purpose of it is so that both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu can say to their respective publics: ‘Look, we’ve kissed and made up', that relations are fine again. Of course they are not fine. The Israeli actions in the flotilla massacre have isolated Israel to an unprecedented degree. The fact that the US among other things prevented the UN Security Council from condemning the massacre has opposed the idea of a UN-run international investigation – all those actions have isolated the US even further than before. So, President Obama is going to be under some pressure to show the world that he is not simply in bed with this rogue government, if you will,” director of the New Internationalism Project, Phyllis Bennis told RT.

The Americans are going to push the Israelis on extending the settlement freeze – which is due to expire in September – on the terms of reference for direct negotiations and on the question of border and security, says Hussein Ibish from the American Task Force on Palestine.

“The Palestinians were here [in the US] in the middle of last month and they made it very clear that they are in favor of direct negotiations, but they want clear terms of reference. They want the Americans to be able to explain to them why direct negotiations would be preferable to indirect negotiations and thirdly, they stress the issues of border and security,” he added.

However, according to analyst for The Jerusalem Post Gil Hoffman, Israel is waiting for the Palestinians to make any concessions at all and Benjamin Netanyahu is going to be urging Barack Obama to take additional steps to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table.

“Since Netanyahu took over, he did freeze construction on the West Bank – even though the majority of the people of Israel opposed the move – hoping that would bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, and it didn’t,” Gil Hoffman says. “Now, Israel is really waiting for concessions from the Palestinian side. Netanyahu from the very beginning of his premiership has been begging the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table and they haven’t. And after America put a lot of pressure on the Palestinians and failed, we are going to see what America can do now.”

Dan Diker, director of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, believes there is a bigger cause to the impasse in the negotiations.

The problem that Mr. Netanyahu faces when he meets with President Obama is really a difference in world view about how to settle the problem in the Middle East,” Diker noted.

Mr. Netanyahu believes that it is the Islamic republic of Iran and radical Islamic terrorism that is affecting Russia as it is affecting countries all throughout the world, and that it is not the Palestinian-Israeli problem that is generating instability in the Middle East.”