Israel Girds for Gridlock with White House

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new minister for science, technology and space has blasted US President Barack Obama as "a dictator" and insists his administration has not been a friend of Israel.

His education minister, leader of the third largest bloc in Netanyahu's new government, refuses to acknowledge Israel's occupation of the West Bank, insisting that the "God-given Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people."

The new deputy foreign minister — essentially Israel's top diplomat given that Netanyahu has retained the Foreign Ministry portfolio for himself — is a hard-core annexationist who wants Jews to pray freely on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem's potential tripwire to religious war.

And then there's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, a relative moderate in the narrow right coalition government sworn in late last Thursday.

While he repeatedly — and sincerely — professes gratitude to Washington and the Obama administration for its "unprecedented" support, Ya'alon has criticized as "obsessive and messianic" Secretary of State John Kerry's failed attempts to renew Israel-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state peace deal.

Of the extended roster of ministers in Israel's 34th government — Netanyahu's fourth — more than half are declared or implicit opponents of the US and European Union vision of two-states for two peoples.

Netanyahu himself has not disavowed his 2009 nod to the notion of a Palestinian State living alongside a secure Israel. But neither has he endorsed it, as Obama has repeatedly requested.

Obama, in an interview last week with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, said he would be watching for the new Israeli government and the Palestinians "to demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to a two-state solution."

But in the first meeting of his new government on May 15 — a day after Israel's declaration of independence 67 years ago and, consequently, what the Palestinians have come to commemorate as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day — Netanyahu flagged the government's continued fortitude in the face of growing threats.

"We will work with determination, responsibility and vigor in the face of all attempts to test our borders and our security from both near and far," Netanyahu said.

"Israel's enemies must know that any threat directed at us has red lines. This has been our policy under previous governments and will be under the current government as well."

In a statement distributed by the government press office, Netanyahu alluded to the Palestinian issue, but did not utter the word "Palestine."

According to the statement, Netanyahu said, "We will continue to promote a diplomatic settlement while upholding the vital interests and security of the citizens of Israel. At the same time… we will try to realize the opportunity of regional developments and new possibilities of action with the moderate and responsible countries around us."

Israeli Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog blasted the new government from the Knesset podium May 14, labeling it a circus.

Herzog rejected Netanyahu's invitation for his left-of-center Zionist Camp Party to join an expanded coalition government, insisting "No reasonable leader would join the Netanyahu circus you have formed at the last moment, at any price, just to remain in power."

"This is a government without vision, without a working plan, and without hope," Herzog said.

Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, leader of Joint Arab List party, assailed the new government as racist and whose success "would spell disaster for the Arab population."

"A black flag of racism flies over this government," Odeh told Knesset members.

In a May 12 event at Bar Ilan University on the future of US-Israel relations, Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Israel is likely to remain on a collision course with Washington for the remainder of Obama's term in office.

"I think there is a crisis and that there will continue to be a crisis," said Abrams, a former US deputy national security adviser under President George Bush. "I cannot see how to vastly improve relations while the Obama administration is in place."

Beyond the poor personal relations at the top, Abrams said support for Israel in America could erode "if people recognize that Israel isn't trying" to reach some kind of diplomatic accommodation with the Palestinians.

"Israel gains from appearing to be ready to try. It's harmful to Israel — internationally and in the United States — to appear to be lapsing into that position. Even if it is slightly cynical, [Netanyahu] should appear to be ready for negotiations," Abrams said

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