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Obama Admin threatens to withhold financial aid to Israel

Sunday, January 10, 2010 Israel Today Staff

US President Barack Obama's special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, threatened late last week to withhold financial aid to Israel if the Jewish state does not accept demanded concessions to get the stalled peace process back on track.

In an interview with Charlie Rose just prior to his departure for Israel, Mitchell was asked what leverage the US has to get Israel to comply with Arab and international demands. He responded:

"Under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel." 

A senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity to Israel's Ynet news portal at the weekend insisted that Mitchell's remarks were not meant as a threat.

But Israel wasn't buying it, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz shot back by telling the Obama Administration to keep its money.

Steinitz noted that Israel had no intention of making use of the loan guarantees in the near future, as it had managed to raise enough funds on its own.

Mitchell's remarks came shortly after Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren rejected Washington's attempt to place a firm two-year deadline on the peace process.

"In the past, attempts to impose time frameworks have not proved either realizable or helpful," Oren told The Jerusalem Post. Previous deadlines have only increased the Palestinians' refusal to meet their peace obligations, confident that Israel would be forced to comply regardless in order to meet the timetable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the US to realize that his government has been making gestures to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table for months, and that the problem is the Palestinian Authority.

"It is the Palestinian Authority that needs to change its ways - certainly not the Israeli government," read a statement issued by Netanyahu's office.

Just a month ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was praising Israel's decision to lift roadblocks and implements a partial settlement freeze as unilateral gestures to the Palestinians. However, in Washington, Israeli gestures are short-lived when met with further Palestinian intransigence.