Political Grenade? U.S. Demands Test Netanyahu

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel on Thursday night in the midst of a growing crisis with the Obama administration.

Some are warning the crisis could mean the end of the Netanyahu government.

Netanyahu met Friday with his inner security cabinet to discuss the demands made by the Obama administration.

The key issue is Jerusalem.

Some reports say the Obama administration is making the following demands:

  • An immediate halt to all Israeli construction in Jerusalem.
  • A continuation of the 10-month moratorium on Jewish construction in the West Bank, the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.

One Israeli official said there was no shift in U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem, but former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold told CBN News he disagrees.

"By insisting that Israel cannot build for its Jewish communities in the eastern parts of Jerusalem, in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem -- this does seem to be a sharp break from past U.S. policy," Gold said.

Obama's demands threaten Netanyahu's coalition. If he meets those demands, hia coalition could fall. Many suspect this has been the strategy of the Obama administration since the crisis began just over two weeks ago.

Jewish groups are calling the U.S. demands unprecedented in scope and intensity.

The Obama administration's treatment of Netanyahu this week provoked Washington Post correspondent Jackson Diehl to observe, "Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator." 

The Israeli press is reporting that "the U.S. is ready for battle."

Obama also held a conference call with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and England's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, allegedly to present a united front in their demands against the Netanyahu government.

But in an open letter to the prime minister published in the Israeli press on Friday, more than half the Knesset members from across the political spectrum backed "the right of the state of Israel to strengthen our hold on the Jewish neighborhoods in all parts of the city."

Yet Obama's strategy may backfire.

If the Netanyahu government falls and new elections are held, a new government may well be more right wing than the current government. An overwhelming majority of Israelis favor Jewish construction in Jerusalem, and polls indicate the next government would be even more conservative.

*Originally published March 25, 2010.

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