Senior members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party lashed out at President Obama early Wednesday morning for what they call a “gross interference” in Israel’s upcoming elections. President Obama was quoted in a Bloomberg piece as having said privately that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”
There has been no love lost between Netanyahu and Obama, and relations between Israel and the US have been less than perfect over the course of Obama’s first term. Obama was reacting to plans by the Israeli government to build more than 3,000 homes in settlement blocs in response to the Palestinian move to achieve non-member observer state status at the UN.
According to columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama “told several people that sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.” He further wrote that “on matters related to the Palestinians the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise.”
He added that he would not be surprised if Obama “eventually offered a public vision of what a state of Palestine should look like, and affirmed that it should have its capital in East Jerusalem.”
Members of the Likud party say that the comments are an attempt to portray a vote for Netanyahu as a vote for further conflict with the United States, but they believe that the opposite will be true in the eyes of the Israeli public. Likud party members of parliament believe that the voters want to know that their Prime Minister will stand up for what he believes in and was elected to do in spite of American pressure.
Netanyahu’s political rivals were quick to seize on Obama’s comments and use them against the Prime Minister.
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, whose party was expected to fair poorly against Netanyahu, said at a press conference in Tel Aviv:
“All of the people of Israel should have been woken up by Obama saying the prime minister was leading Israel to grave isolation. As an Israeli, it is hard for me to hear it, but it’s important to know that this is happening. If people don’t change their vote, Netanyahu will continue leading us to isolation, violence and a worse economy, because it’s all connected.”
Sources in Israel say that Obama’s comments may be a level of retaliation for what was perceived as Netanyahu’s endorsement of Mitt Romney in the previous American elections.