Netanyahu: U.S. ‘Treating Me Like Saddam’

Upset by President Clinton’s repeated snubs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained that “the Americans are treating me like Saddam Hussein,” a newspaper said Thursday.

Netanyahu’s aides said the prime minister was speaking in jest.

However, Netanyahu has tried - and failed - for weeks to be received at the White House, apparently because Clinton blames the Israeli leader for the Mideast deadlock and the U.S. administration’s difficulties in putting together an Arab coalition against Iraq.

Asked in a TV interview Wednesday about Clinton’s apparent refusal to meet with him, Netanyahu said: “It’s unbecoming, it doesn’t befit nations who are allies, and even doesn’t befit nations who are not allies.”

“I think such meetings should be at the interest of both leaders. … It’s certainly not something that Israel has to pay for,” Netanyahu told Cable News Network.

Asked if he was insulted, Netanyahu replied: “No prime minister of Israel is humiliated personally. All insults are directed at the office of the prime minister, and the entire Jewish state feels humiliated if action is taken against us.”

Earlier this month, Netanyahu flew to the United States to address American Jewish leaders but failed to win an invitation to the White House. Making the slight worse, the paths of Clinton and Netanyahu crossed in Los Angeles, with their planes parked just yards away from one another on the runway.

In Los Angeles, Clinton was hosted by Haim Saban, an Israeli TV producer and supporter of the Democratic Party. Speaking to the Yediot Ahronot daily this week, Saban quoted Clinton as saying the president felt he had to send a message to Netanyahu by refusing to meet him.

Clinton complained, Saban said, that the United States had lost its ability to maneuver in the Arab world because it is seen as unwilling to pressure Netanyahu’s hardline government.

As a result, Clinton was quoted as saying, the United States had difficulty enlisting Arab states in a coalition against Saddam in the recent Persian Gulf crisis.

An angry Netanyahu, meanwhile, ordered his aides earlier this week to stop trying to arrange a White House meeting.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told leaders of the World Jewish Congress in a private meeting in Jerusalem that “the Americans are treating me like Saddam Hussein,” Yediot reported.

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