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‘Relations with US strategic asset we cannot endanger’ – Israeli finance minister

Published time: August 16, 2014 07:23
Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)

Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)

Amid reports of straining relations between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid has stated that the ties with the US “are a strategic asset which we cannot endanger."

Lapid said: “This is a very concerning trend and we cannot let it continue," the Jerusalem Post reported.

In a move viewed as criticism of PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of US-Israeli relations, Lapid, who is also leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said: "Sometimes, you just have to know how to say thank you and to make sure that our ties with America will remain the most courageous and important friendship for Israel."

The strains between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet were made particularly tough after Israel derailed the Obama administration's attempts to mediate the Gaza crisis by striking an arms deal with the Pentagon and using leverage with the US Congress, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Relations are now at an all-time low and the quarrel is increasingly being seen as getting personal, as Netanyahu's Cabinet has left the US in the position of an observer rather than an active mediator.

Lapid could now be setting his sights on the PM's office, experts said, as he is now the leader of the Israeli parliament's key faction, a position previously enjoyed by Netanyahu, the leader of the the right-wing Likud party.

The Knesset’s Yesh Atid faction, led by Lapid, now has 19 members, the same as Netanyahu’s Likud, which has recently broke up, allowing Yisrael Beytenu to gain a mandate at the Likud’s expense and leaving the ruling party with 19 MPs, the Jerusalem Post reported.

But there’s a difference between the factions, as Lapid’s 19 MPs are “much more disciplined than Netanyahu’s,” the Post said.

Lapid's comments, during the present lull in the fighting in Gaza, are being seen as an attempt to make up for the enforced silence he kept during the military operation over the last month, as political self-promotion during an IDF operation would be regarded as bad form in Israeli politics.

After the IDF withdrew its troops from the Palestinian territories, Lapid got a free hand and started making public on Monday his peace plan for the Gaza Strip, focused on making Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the central figure of the dialogue, commentators say. Though the plan was unlikely to be adopted, Lapid set out his plan and established his position, arguably more reasonable and less bloodthirsty than Netanyahu’s.

US President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)

The Israeli Finance Minister also made no secret of the fact that he had talked directly to some top American officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry.and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week, to “express his thanks for the aid transferred to Israel from the US for the Iron Dome rocket defense system,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

And now that Lapid has access to senior American officials through diplomatic channels of his own, he has already held consultations with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Apart from contacting Reid and Kerry, the Israeli Finance Minister has also established contacts with a large number of other top American politicians, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham. The ostensible reason for the contacts has been to express Israel's gratitude for the $225 million aid bill to supply Israel’s national Iron Dome air defense system with intercept missiles.

In another dissenting move, an article published on Israel’s I24 News by Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa and director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, appealed to President Barack Obama to apply more pressure on PM Benjamin Netanyahu to force the Israeli leader make the painful compromises needed for peace with the Palestinians.

“How is it that the President of the United States, who is supposed to understand Israeli politics to its core, not aware of the huge erosion in the power of the pro-peace left-wing in Israel and its demise as a player on the Israeli political arena?” Liel wrote in the article.

There are only several hundred thousand Israeli citizens left who realize that peace with Palestinians is the solution to the problem, not military action, Liel said. But these people cannot apply pressure on Netanyahu, due to the threat of being “dubbed traitors” and being “fired from their jobs,” Liel said.