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Israeli Leader Tests New US Political Arena

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly Cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, 24 October 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly Cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, 24 October 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to the United States Saturday on a five-day visit aimed at shoring up U.S. support for Israel. The visit follows a congressional election victory for Republicans, a development that some in Israel believe may benefit the Jewish state's stance on negotiations with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the United States was planned well before last Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections, but analysts say the timing could not be better for the Israeli leader to get acquainted with the new political scene in Washington and gain a feel for how it will bode for Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, says the Israeli leader will first stop in New Orleans on Sunday for an annual meeting of North American Jewish groups. He says talks with Obama administration officials are also on Mr. Netanyahu's agenda.

"We have meetings lined up with Vice President Biden, with secretary of State Clinton and we're looking forward to discussing with them how to ensure the continuation of peace talks that started in the beginning of September in Washington," said Regev.

Analysts say Mr. Netanyahu may be stepping into a different atmosphere when he speaks to U.S. administration officials about resuming talks. Direct negotiations have been stalled since late September when Israel refused Palestinian demands to extend a moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Relations between the United States and Israel deteriorated during the term of President Barack Obama, due to the pressure the U.S. leader has placed on Mr. Netanyahu to restrict expansion of West Bank settlements and work toward a two-state solution.

Members of Mr. Netanyahu's right wing Likud party have welcomed the U.S. election results as good news for Israel, but the Israeli leader himself has not voiced an opinion on the poll.

With Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Mr. Obama politically weakened, some in Israel believe the U.S. President may be in less of a position to continue pressuring the Israeli leader.

Yoram Ettinger is an Israeli U.S.-Middle East policy analyst who once served as minister for congressional affairs at Israel's Embassy in Washington.

"This congress is even more pro-Israel than the current one, which is extremely pro-Israel. The new congress will be much more national security oriented than its predecessor, more tradition oriented, more anti-U.N., more skeptic toward Europe, and more antiterrorism-minded, all of which bodes well for U.S. Israel in particular, but for U.S.-Israel relations in general," said Ettinger.

After New Orleans, Mr. Netanyahu plans to be in New York where he will meet with U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will not meet with President Obama, who is scheduled to be on a trip to Asia during the entire length of the Israeli leader's visit.