Will Bibi “Iran first” policy trigger clash with Obama administration?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Pro-Israel leaders were working hard this week to spin the story that there’s no real likelihood of a clash between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is still formulating his new government’s approach to peace process issues.

But if a story in this morning’s Washington Post  is accurate, their work could get a lot harder.

The Post backs up persistent reports the new Israeli  government has decided on an Iran-first policy – not moving ahead “on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Tehran’s rising influence in the region.”

That represents a “significant change from that of previous governments” and “presents a challenge for President Obama, who has made quick progress on Palestinian statehood a key foreign policy goal,” the Post wrote.

The story cited former U.S. ambassador Danny Ayalon, now a deputy foreign minister, who said Iran must come first, and that the timetable on Palestinian statehood is “open ended.”

The Obama administration has said Iran policy will be one of its foreign policy priorities, along with Israeli-Palestinian progress,  but one has to wonder: how will it respond to a reported shift some may see as diplomatic blackmail?

Given that economic sanctions and  the tough-talking policies of the Bush administration did little to deter Iran’s nuclear quest and that the prospects for dialog took a big hit with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel rant at the Durban II conference on Monday, doesn’t Netanyahu’s reported policy shift look like an indefinite postponement of diplomatic efforts on the Palestinian front – something that clashes with administration priorities for the region?

On the other hand, as the Post reports, many Arab leaders are starting to talk more about the threat posed by an aggressive, nuclear Iran. But it seems unlikely they will abandon their demand for quick progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

It looks like Netanyahu and Obama will have a lot to talk about when the prime minister comes to Washington sometime next month. And it looks like pro-Israel spinmeisters have their work cut out for them between now and then.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.