By Jonathan Lis
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued veiled criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday in response to a report that Obama had disparaged the Israeli’s leadership.
“Everyone understands that only Israelis will determine who faithfully represents Israel’s vital interests,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division.
“Over the last four years we have withstood enormous pressures. They wanted us to restrain our pressure on Iran, withdraw to the 1967 lines, divide Jerusalem and cease construction in Jerusalem. We have fended off those pressures.”
On Tuesday, American commentator Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in his Bloomberg column that after Israel had announced plans to build thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank last month, “Obama said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.’ With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.”
Goldberg is considered very close to the Obama administration, and over the past four years is said to have passed on several public messages from the White House to Israel and Netanyahu, regarding both the Palestinians and Iran.
In any case, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, a Likud MK, blamed Hatnuah chief Tzipi Livni for Goldberg’s column.
“Tzipi Livni was interviewed a year and half ago by the same Jeffrey Goldberg and told him that the American president should pressure and threaten the Israeli prime minister … because that’s the only thing that would make the premier change his positions,” Erdan told the Knesset Channel. “I think this is improper and deplorable.”
Hatnuah headquarters responded, “It would be preferable if Likud-Beiteinu harnessed the United States and President Obama for Israel’s benefit.”
Meanwhile, as the parties enter the home stretch before Tuesday’s election, Likud discovered that Israelis seem to have forgotten about Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman. According to Likud’s recent internal polls, around 21 percent of respondents didn’t know Lieberman was still contending for a Knesset seat as the slate’s No. 2 candidate.
Party sources say the indictment against Lieberman for fraud and breach of trust apparently led many voters to believe he could not run for the Knesset. As a result, the slate will highlight Lieberman over the next few days; a campaign video puts Lieberman front and center for the first time, and he is expected to join Netanyahu for a series of campaign stops and political meetings.
“Lieberman is an important asset to Likud-Beiteinu,” a Likud source said. “He can influence secular or traditional right-wing voters who in recent weeks have moved their support to [Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali] Bennett and bring them back to supporting the party.”
Tomorrow, Netanyahu is expected to head a mass effort to phone undecided voters and persuade them to vote for the merged ticket of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.
Yesterday, Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich made her first campaign stop at the Mahaneh Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem, long considered a Likud stronghold.
“I understand that Mahaneh Yehuda is considered a Likud stronghold, but believe me it didn’t look that way based on the handshakes and blessings I received,” Yacimovich said. Meanwhile, Eli Mizrahi, chairman of the market’s merchants’ association, noted that he had joined the Labor Party.