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Obama talks tough on Israel before Mideast speech

2009-06-04 09:56 BJT

by David Harris

JERUSALEM, June 3 (Xinhua) -- When U.S. President Barack Obama makes what is being described as a major speech to world Muslims in Egypt on Thursday, Israel will be among the most careful listeners.

During his ongoing visit to the Middle East, which includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Obama is not scheduled to visit Israel, which was seen by many Israeli analysts as a snub to the Israeli government led by hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, on the eve of his trip, he held a surprise meeting with visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the White House. The two reportedly discussed Israel's settlement activity, currently a key sticking point between the two allies.

Since taking office in January, Obama's rhetoric towards Israeli policies on the West Bank has been direct. He has repeatedly urged the Jewish state to freeze settlement building and to endorse the two-state principle for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

"Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama said on Monday regarding relations with Israel. "I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests."

Similar messages have also been heard from other senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Israel is trying to persuade the Obama administration to confirm its commitment to previous understandings between Israel and the United States.

The Netanyahu government believes that previous agreements between then U.S. President George W. Bush and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made it clear that Israel would be allowed to keep major settlement blocs in the West Bank in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.