Israel fell out of love with Barack Obama and it is now up to the US president to win back that trust. That was the word from Gil Hoffman, the chief political columnist of the Jerusalem Post at a Bicom-arranged event this morning. He visits London only days after John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State. Kerry, in a joint appearance with William Hague on Monday, stressed the importance of re-starting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It is clear that the White House will now press hard for a peace deal.
However, according to Hoffman, it is not likely that Obama’s planned trip to Israel next month, which will include a visit to the West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders, will result in any significant progress. There will be no front-page news, said Hoffman. If you have a newspaper, he advised, “then prepare page 13.”
Relations between the US and Israel are strained. Obama and Netanyahu have disagreed strongly on the subject of how to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme. Hawkish members of Netanyahu’s party have long advocated a military strike against Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment facilities, much to the dismay of some in Israel’s own intelligence and military apparatus. But Hoffman suggests that Israel has never intended to strike Iran, giving out hawkish signals only to concentrate the attention of the international community on the growing threat posed by Tehran. If correct, it is uncertain what effect such brinkmanship would have on long-term relations between the US and Israel.
Meanwhile negotiations within Israel continue over the structure of the next coalition government. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu party won the largest share of the vote in the January elections, though with a diminished mandate of 31 seats. So far, Netanyahu has managed to strike a deal with only one party, Hatnua, led by Tzipi Livni, whose campaign made much of the importance of restarting the peace process. It has been suggested this morning that Netanyahu will sign an agreement later today with Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right Jewish Home party, which won 12 seats in the 120 seat Knesset. The star of election night, Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party won 19 seats has not yet reached agreement with Netanyahu. It is suggested that Lapid will be offered the position of minister of foreign affairs.