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The sharp-witted Jewish leader-turned-columnist Isi Leibler wrote a piece in November 2010 praising Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s emerging pro-Israel leadership. But Leibler’s article contained two statements that should have served as a wake-up call to President Obama. They didn’t, and tensions continue to rise between the American president and the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
The first statement was delivered early in the article: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has unquestionably emerged as Israel’s greatest friend in the world, effectively assuming the role previously occupied by former Australian prime minister John Howard.”
The latter part of that sentence was a sharp rebuke to the White House. It wasn’t surprising that Leibler would acknowledge Harper’s new role as the head of state that was Israel’s most reliable advocate. But Leibler was actually claiming that Harper had taken the spot not of the American president, but of the Australian prime minister.
Later in the article, Leibler notes that Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council was defeated after Harper criticized the UN’s record on Israel. “For some,” Leibler wrote, “Canada’s defeat under such circumstances will be viewed as a badge of honor. But what made Canada’s defeat even more outrageous was the role of the US. According to Richard Grenfell, a former press officer with the US mission to the UN, ‘US State Department insiders say that US Ambassador Susan Rice not only didn’t campaign for Canada’s election but instructed American diplomats to not get involved in the weekend leading up to the heated contest.’… The US betrayal of its neighbor and long-standing ally is a chilling indication of the depths to which the Obama administration has stooped in its efforts to ‘engage’ and appease Islamic and Third World rogue states.”
This set the stage, rather predictably, for how both countries would react to Obama’s suggestion that Israeli-Palestinian final-status negotiations begin with, and then build upon, the 1967 ceasefire lines. After Obama made the suggestion in a speech May 19, members of Congress from both parties criticized the president, as did Netanyahu and pro-Israel groups. Obama responded by doubling down on the concept in his speech to the annual America-Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference the following Sunday.
Obama’s language on the conflict was roundly criticized again by both parties, and the president took his Mideast plan to last week’s meeting of the G-8 countries—the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada—where he submitted it for approval by the group. Worried that a public statement by the G-8 countries would reinforce international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, Netanyahu called Harper, according to Haaretz (a Harper spokesman denied any orchestration between the two leaders). The Israeli daily reported that every G-8 country aside from Canada approved of the 1967 language; Harper responded by insisting the language be omitted from the final statement.
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