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Israeli gamesmanship at the fore in W.H. meeting

At their White House meeting today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be forthright in his criticism of President Barack Obama and of the president's speech Thursday in which he calls for Middle East peace negotiations predicated on Israel's 1967 borders.

On CBS' "The Early Show," former Assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin (now executive editor of the Bloomberg View, said Mr. Obama has much less clout in Israel than did previous U.S. presidents.

"That's partly a function of his willingness in the past to put to the Israeli government his differences on issues like settlements, which is now what the Israeli government is complaining about," Rubin said. "So to the extent that the Israelis respond to President Obama's urging that they get serious about the negotiations, this could have a positive effect. But right now, it's turned into a real diplomatic flap."

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Rubin said Netanyahu is known for gamesmanship, and is therefore playing up his differences with Mr. Obama for political purposes. "Because it isn't that big a difference," Rubin said.

Pre-1967 borders have been discussed in the past by other U.S. presidents, so according to Rubin the White House didn't intend Mr. Obama's speech as a major policy shift. "The difference was, they didn't include a few words the Israelis care about," Rubin said. "The words they wanted to see was 'reflecting new realities' - that is, since 1967, Israeli settlements have built up around Jerusalem. President Bush, in a letter to then-Prime Minister Sharon, referred also to the '67 borders but he had these phrases 'reflecting new realities.'

"So I think a lot of what you're going to see today, behind the scenes, is Prime Minister Netanyahu saying, 'Look, I had this letter from the previous president to my predecessor, does that still hold? Why are you changing it?' And they'll get back and forth.

"My guess is, by the end of the next 24 hours, they'll have some new words, similar to 'reflecting new realities,' maybe some words like, you know, that 'conditions have changed.' And then Prime Minister Netanyahu can go home and say, 'I talked us back from the cliff.'"

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Rubin said contributing to the dust-up between Israeli and American leaders is Mr. Obama's lesser popularity in Israel than previous U.S. presidents, which mean, "It's easier for Prime Minister Netanyahu to have a fight with him. Previous American presidents, the prime minister didn't want to have a fight with them, because it could hurt them politically.

"For example, when President Clinton had a fight with Prime Minister Netanyahu a decade ago, Netanyahu was thrown out of office, and Ehud Barak was put in. That's the way the Israeli political game is played. "