Alleged remarks by Barack Obama criticising Benjamin Netanyahu for his expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank have stirred anger before Israel’s national election next week.
Quotes attributed to the US president saying “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are”, which were reported by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, were the main story in leading Israeli newspapers on Wednesday.
An Israeli official told the Financial Times that Mr Netanyahu’s government would respond if it confirmed that the remarks attributed to the US president were authentic.
“Surely it’s for the Israelis to determine what their best interests are and they’ll be doing so next week,” the official said.
Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper cited officials in Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party accusing Mr Obama of “gross interference” in the January 22 election, which the incumbent prime minister is favourite to win.
The newspaper reported that the president was “taking revenge” on Mr Netanyahu for his perceived intervention in November’s US election in favour of Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate.
“Israelis expect their prime minister not to give in to pressure, even if it would give them applause in the United States,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Gilad Erdan, environmental protection minister, as saying.
Mr Netanyahu’s strained relations with Mr Obama are followed obsessively in Israel, where many opponents of the government worry about their country’s growing isolation.
The daily Yedioth Ahronoth also picked up on the president’s quoted remarks, writing: “Israel is becoming a pariah state that is alienating the affections of the US, its last steadfast friend, and in such a situation it won’t survive”.
Haaretz, an influential left-of-centre daily, also had Mr Obama’s leaked remarks as its lead story.
The US last year joined several other countries in criticising Mr Netanyahu’s announcement of a plan to build in E1, Palestinian land east of Jerusalem that had been free of Jewish settlements. The move was widely seen as retaliation for the UN’s vote in November, upgrading Palestine’s status to that of non-member observer state.
Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is running in an alliance with former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, is expected to win next week’s election comfortably. After the vote, it will have 90 days to form a government and is expected to reach out to other rightwing and possibly centrist parties to form a majority.
A poll published by Israel’s Channel Two on Tuesday projected that Likud Beitenu would win 33 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, with the leftwing Labour party in second place, with 17 seats.