No Sign of Thaw in U.S.-Israel Relations

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk slams Netanyahu in interview.

JERUSALEM, April 21, 2010 — -- Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk pulled no punches today in his criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his refusal of U.S. demands to stop building Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

During a broad-ranging interview on one of Israel's most popular radio shows this morning, he spoke plainly of the crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.

The issue has sparked a crisis between the Obama White House and the right-wing Israeli government.

In tense face-to-face meetings in Washington almost a month ago, President Obama reportedly tabled a list of demands of the Israeli leader, including a halt to settlement construction in Jerusalem. The measures were proposed as a way to restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israel has yet to respond formally to the demands.

Indyk said a resumption of serious pace talks was now a U.S. strategic interest and told Israeli listeners they had a stark choice.

"If you need the United States, then you need to take into account America's interests," he said.

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, he repeated unusually blunt criticism of the Israeli position and described how the U.S. administration sees a clear link between confronting the Iranian nuclear threat and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"With 200,000 American troops committed to two wars in the greater Middle East and the U.S. president leading a major international effort to block Iran's nuclear program, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a U.S. strategic imperative," he wrote.

Media War Heats Up Between U.S. and Netanyahu Supporters

The Times article and today's radio interview were the latest shots in what many consider is becoming a media war between the Obama administration and Netanyahu.

At the instigation of the Israeli prime minister last week, the famous Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel published a highly emotive piece in the U.S. press defending Jewish claims to all of Jerusalem.

"Jerusalem is mentioned 600 times in scriptures and not a single time in the Quran," he wrote.

In the same week, Ron Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics mogul and close friend of Netanyahu, published full page ads in the U.S. papers criticizing Obama's insistence on a Jerusalem settlement freeze.

Whether Indyk is speaking on behalf of the U.S. administration is unclear, but his closeness to key administration figures may persuade some people in Jerusalem that such a critical message comes from the top.

He challenged Israel's prime minister to choose between the right-wing members of his government and their supporters in the settlements and the strategic partnership with the country's closest ally.

"The shift in America's Middle East interests means that Netanyahu must make a choice: take on the president of the United States, or take on his right-wing.

"If he continues to defer to those ministers in his cabinet who oppose peacemaking, the consequences for U.S.-Israel relations could be dire," he wrote.