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Middle East Amp North Africa
Obama-Netanyahu relationship hits new low
From the Financial Times of Wed, 29 Oct 2014 19:03:31 GMT
Yair Lapid: jumped to the prime minister’s defence©Quique Kierszenbaum/FT

Yair Lapid: jumped to the prime minister’s defence

The rocky relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has been tested further after an unnamed senior White House official was quoted describing the Israeli leader as “chickenshit”.

Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday jumped to defend himself against “those anonymous elements that are attacking us and me personally” after the remark surfaced in a story by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on the parlous state of US-Israeli relations.

“If I did not defend the state of Israel, if I did not vigorously uphold our national and security interests, they would not attack me,” Mr Netanyahu said in remarks at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. “And despite all the attacks against me I will continue to defend our state. I will continue to defend the citizens of Israel.”

“The thing about Bibi, he’s a chickenshit,” Mr Goldberg quoted the official saying in the context of fraying relations with Washington, which in recent weeks has criticised Mr Netanyahu’s move to expand settlements in East Jerusalem that the US sees as detrimental to the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. The Israeli leader has also been sharply critical of an emerging deal between the US and other western powers and Iran on its nuclear programme.

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states.”

The story also said that Obama administration officials had in the past described Mr Netanyahu as “blustering, pompous and ‘Aspergery’”.

No Israeli in his right mind – no minister in the government – can accept this kind of vocabulary when it refers to our prime minister

- Yair Lapid, Israel finance minister

The story dominated the Israeli news cycle on Wednesday, with news outlets groping for Hebrew translations for “chickenshit” and “Aspergery”. Members of Mr Netanyahu’s government, including economy minister Naftali Bennett and finance minister Yair Lapid, jumped to the prime minister’s defence.

“No Israeli in his right mind – no minister in the government – can accept this kind of vocabulary when it refers to our prime minister,” Mr Lapid said.

However, opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned that the remarks suggested “the diplomatic safety net that Israel has enjoyed for a generation from the US could be removed”.

US officials were sharply critical in January of comments made by defence minister Moshe Ya’alon in which the Israeli minister called John Kerry, US secretary of state, “messianic” and “obsessive” in his pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which fell apart in April. Mr Ya’alon was snubbed in his efforts to meet top administration officials on a visit last week to Washington.

The National Security Council told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the comments attributed to the White House official were “inappropriate and counterproductive”.

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