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Middle east

"The Americans have nothing to lose by putting pressure on Israel"

Text by Perrine MOUTERDE

Latest update : 2010-03-16

According to Middle East specialist Alain Dieckhoff, the ongoing crisis between the USA and Israel illustrates a sea change in relations between the US and Israel. Dieckhoff talks to FRANCE 24 about the current crisis and what we can expect next

The postponement of US Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s visit to Israel is a clear demonstration of the growing tension in US-Israeli relations. Alain Dieckhoff, an Israel specialist at the Centre for International Research Studies (CERI) at Science-Po University in Paris explains what’s behind it and how we can expect the situation to develop.

France 24: How serious is this diplomatic crisis?

Alain Dieckhoff: It should not be over-analysed: it certainly does not mark the end of the special relationship between the USA and Israel.

But, these tensions are serious and mark a big change with previous US administrations. After all, we have a new president with a new vision at the helm in Washington. When George W. Bush was in power, the situation was totally different and both countries had a very similar world outlook.

Obviously, Israel thought that after US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, things would calm down. This has not been the case. Over the past year, there have been several misunderstandings between the two countries. Israel and the US could not have more divergent political options than they do right now.

In 1991, then US Secretary of State James Baker told the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, after publicly quoting the White House telephone number: “When you’re serious about peace, call us.”

Since then, we have not seen such a strong gesture from the Americans.

F24: What are the possible consequences for the peace process?

AD: If the Americans succeed in getting what they have been asking for – we’re talking about US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton putting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a total settlements freeze – it would be something never seen before.

The Americans are nevertheless in a strong position. Faced with what is much more than simple annoyance from Washington, it is highly likely that Israel will make some sort of conciliatory gesture. Some moderate and dissident voices, at the heart of the Israeli government machine, are already making a case for this.

The Palestinians have withdrawn from the negotiating table with Israel and the US has nothing to lose in putting extra pressure on Israel.

But, Netanyahu may try to dismiss Clinton’s demands, which could make the situation even tenser. He has to tread a fine line between placating the Americans on the one hand, and not being perceived as caving in to US pressure by the right-wingers in his government. He cannot afford to give the impression that he has capitulated.

F24: Palestinians are once more on the streets showing their anger. Could the situation deteriorate further?

AD: The situation has certainly got worse in Jerusalem since last summer. It is premature to talk of a “third Intifada” - it has been predicted for the last three years and there has been no uprising. But there is certainly potential for the situation to deteriorate. Tension between Israel and the US will give the Palestinians something to think about, and they may be tempted to take advantage of it when they come to play their hand.


Date created : 2010-03-16


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