By Carol E. Lee – Wall Street Journal?
Deal that included the creation of a Palestinian state was a top foreign-policy goal
WASHINGTON?President Barack Obama, citing conflicting comments in the past week from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, predicted Tuesday that there would be no peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians during the remainder of his time in office.
In his starkest assessment yet of U.S.-Israel relations, Mr. Obama, speaking at a news conference, put a firm end to one of the top foreign-policy goals of his second term: a Middle East peace deal that includes the creation a Palestinian state.
?What we can?t do is pretend that there?s a possibility for something that?s not there,? Mr. Obama said. ?And we can?t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.?
He added, ?For the sake of our own credibility I think we have to be able to be honest about that.?
Amid increasing Israel-U.S. tensions, Obama announced that he does not expect to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement during the remainder of his term. Photo: AP
U.S.-Israel relations have dropped to historic lows in recent weeks, largely because of disagreement over a nuclear deal with Iran that the U.S. and other world powers hope to reach by March 31.
The tensions swelled at the conclusion of Israel?s election last week, due to Mr. Netanyahu?s statements about Palestinian statehood and Arab Israeli voters.
A report in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday revealed that Israeli officials had spied on the closed-door Iran talks and passed some of the information it gleaned to U.S. lawmakers.
While the Israeli government denied spying on the U.S., current and former Israeli officials told the Journal that the country?s intelligence agencies sweep up communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran, allowing Israel to piece together the U.S.?s position in the nuclear talks.
?The issue is not a matter of relations between leaders. The issue is a very clear substantive challenge: We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel?s security, for Palestinian aspirations and for regional stability,? Mr. Obama said. ?And Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach.?
The president said the U.S. is considering alternatives to Israeli-Palestinian talks, including taking action at the United Nations that would lead to Palestinian statehood.
That shift in U.S. policy occurred after Mr. Netanyahu said last week, when facing a tough re-election fight, that a Palestinian state wouldn?t be created while he is prime minister. Since then, Mr. Netanyahu again has reversed his position, saying after the election that he supports creation of a Palestinian state?which is long-standing U.S. policy?as long as certain conditions were met.
Mr. Obama said Tuesday the prime minister?s ?corrective? statement was unconvincing and added that the conditions the Israeli leader placed on the creation of a Palestinian state would put the prospects for doing so out of reach.
Mr. Obama at the news conference declined to address the Journal report on Israeli spying on closed-door nuclear talks.
?As a general rule, I don?t comment on intelligence matters in a big room full of reporters, and I think I?ll continue that tradition,? Mr. Obama quipped.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said Tuesday he was ?shocked? by revelations Israeli officials passed on to U.S. lawmakers information about an emerging Iran deal that they learned by spying on negotiations. ?I?m not aware of that at all,? Mr. Boehner said when asked about the Journal report. ?There was no information revealed to me whatsoever.?
Several other prominent lawmakers?including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.)?said they had not received any information from Israelis that they didn?t already have or that wasn?t available publicly.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had not heard directly from Israeli officials about the contents of the Iran nuclear talks.
?I will say a lot of times I get more information from foreign ministers who are visiting than I do from the White House,? Mr. Corker said.
He added: ?I do not remember anyone from Israel sharing any information with me that I didn?t already have a good idea of reading your publications. Most of it you can get on the Internet.?
In Israel, officials were adamant that they had not engaged in spying on the U.S.
?Israel does not spy on the United States, period, exclamation mark,?? Yuval Steinitz, minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, told Israel Radio on Tuesday. ?Whoever published those false allegations possibly wanted to damage the excellent intelligence cooperation between us and the United States.?
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the spying allegations but told Israel Army Radio that Israel could obtain intelligence on the talks based on sources in Iran without spying on the U.S. U.S. intelligence agencies helped the Israelis build up the systems they use to collect Iranian communications.
Mr. Obama said at the White House that a nuclear deal with Iran, which Mr. Netanyahu opposes, would be fully transparent.
?I have confidence that if there?s an agreement, it?s going to be a good agreement that?s good for American security and Israel?s security and the region?s security, and if it isn?t then there probably won?t be an agreement,? the president said. ?There will be, I think, significant transparency in the whole process.?
? Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.