Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sharansky: Netanyahu won't clash with Obama

Former minister Natan Sharansky, who has been a frequent guest at the White House in recent years, has rejected allegations from Kadima that if elected prime minister, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu would not get along with the administration of US President Barack Obama.

He met with Obama a year ago and discussed the bottom-up theory of solving the Middle East conflict that Sharansky has been talking about for years and which has become the basis of Netanyahu's "economic peace" diplomatic plan.

Based on that conversation, Obama's writings and the history of Israel's relations with the US, Sharansky said he was convinced that Netanyahu would get along well with Obama's administration and that the president would endorse Netanyahu's approach to achieving peace with the Palestinians.

"The attempt to use Obama to attack Bibi really bothers me," Sharansky said in an interview at his Jerusalem office on Thursday. "It is absolutely ridiculous to say that a candidate who can say no to the Americans is dangerous, because it assumes that the ability to say no to the Americans is a bad thing."

Sharansky said there was no danger of a crisis with the US over a disagreement between the two countries as long as Israel was open with the American administration about its policies."If they have a feeling that we are playing games, that's when we have a real problem," Sharansky said.

Asked whether he had confidence in Netanyahu sticking up for Israel's positions more than his predecessors, Sharansky said Netanyahu had proven when he was finance minister that his ability to stand up to pressure had improved since his first term as prime minister.

"I complained to him when he was prime minister that he didn't withstand pressure, but as finance minister he stood up against the entire country," Sharansky said. "He learned and became stronger.

"Whether he will be strong enough to implement [his plans] depends on how strong his election victory will be. Inevitably you get pushed by your coalition partners, but he is much more capable now."

Netanyahu's economic peace plan calls for continuing diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, regional cooperation with Jordan, and mass investment in the Palestinian Authority to give the Palestinians an incentive to seek peace. Sharansky said that if Netanyahu won the election and handled Israel's relations with America correctly, Obama would endorse the plan.

"Whether we end up having good relations is mostly up to us," he said. "If we lead our policies firmly, wisely and frankly, there is no danger of conflict."