Israeli government exposed as diplomatic pressure rises



The new Netanyahu government does not yet have a foreign minister but it is already facing a series of profound diplomatic challenges.

Last week, the P5+1 talks between Iran and the world powers continued under a low profile - a reminder that the one issue that has done more than any other to cloud the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington is still there.

As the June 30 deadline for signing the agreement approaches, sniping between Benjamin Netanyahu's government and Barack Obama's administration is certain to increase.

For Mr Netanyahu, the one silver lining to the Iranian issue is that Mr Obama has personally requested his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, to delay his push for a UN resolution on setting a time-table for talks on creating a Palestinian state.

The postponement of the French initiative - which the Israeli government fears will impose on it unfavourable conditions - is welcome, but the French-US co-ordination is ominous as well.

Israel is worried that the US will either support the resolution when it comes up - perhaps at UN General Assembly in autumn - or, at the least, not veto it.

Meanwhile, European governments are mulling using sanctions against Israel - such as labelling goods - as a response to settlement-building. However, these steps will probably be postponed until after the Iranian situation is resolved and perhaps also after a vote on the French resolution.

The Palestinian Authority may now take the initiative by lodging new complaints at the ICC. This week, President Mahmoud Abbas set out his conditions for resuming talks - a total freeze on settlement building, the release of all prisoners sentenced before the Oslo accords were signed and a commitment to negotiate for no longer than a year. Currently, Israel is not prepared to meet any of these conditions.

It remains unclear who is spearheading Israel's response to all these challenges. The Prime Minister, for now, is the point man but he has to deal with all his other responsibilities. He has appointed Tzipi Hotovely, a young hardliner protégé of his, with no diplomatic experience whatsoever, as Deputy Foreign Minister. Silvan Shalom, the Interior Minister, has been given responsibility for the strategic dialogue with the US and any future talks with the PA, although he is known to be a strong critic of the two-state solution.

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