'Political coward' Netanyahu sees rift with Obama widen

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 20, 2013 10:10 hrs

Already fractious relations between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama have strained further.

This comes in the run-up to Obama's inauguration on Monday and Netanyahu's anticipated victory in Tuesday's election.

Netanyahu aides accused Obama of interfering in the Israeli election following publication of an article by American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, which quoted the president as saying that 'Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are.'

According to the Guardian, Goldberg wrote that Obama viewed Netanyahu as a 'political coward'.

The Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has voiced alarm at the rupture between the two leaders, was due to meet a delegation of US senators, led by Republican John McCain, in Jerusalem on Saturday night to discuss strengthening strategic relations between the two allies, the report said.

The Goldberg article, along with Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as defence secretary, has been interpreted in Israel as a clear sign of the president's exasperation with Netanyahu and possible payback for the latter's support of Obama's rival, Mitt Romney, in the US election in November, the report said.

According to the report, Hagel is seen as 'anti-Israel' because of his questioning of Israeli government policy and the pro-Israel lobby in the US.

Goldberg, who is known to be close to the president, wrote that Israel risked becoming "more of a pariah" and that Obama was reluctant to invest fresh effort in the Middle East peace process in the face of Netanyahu's continued settlement expansion.

Netanyahu is expected to continue as prime minister following Tuesday's election, which is likely to see a significant strengthening of the hardline pro-settler faction within the Israeli parliament, the report said.

According to the report, he is thought to be keen to include at least one centrist party in the next coalition government, in part to appease the US administration.

The Israeli prime minister is expected to visit Washington in March for the annual meeting of the pro-Israel lobby group Aipac, it added. (ANI)

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