Obama says he’s not bringing peace plan because Israeli gov’t uninterested 18Mar13 March 18, 2013

Haaretz     -     17 March 2013

2349077637At a meeting last week between U.S. President Barack Obama and a group of Arab-American leaders, the president was asked why he did not intend to launch a new peace process to thaw out negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. According to an individual present at the meeting, Obama was very frank in his reply: The government in Israel is not ready to make concessions, he said, and so there is no point in bringing pressure to bear at this time.

Obama is very frustrated with the diplomatic impasse and the fruitlessness of his efforts during his first term. He will try to explain this frustration in his speech to the Israeli public on Thursday evening. Obama hopes that his visit, and especially that speech, will make clear his desire to advance the peace process, and his concern for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Obama’s message will be that changes in the Middle East require Israel to change its way of thinking. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said at a press briefing last Thursday that Obama views a peace agreement as an American security interest as well as a Palestinian and Israeli one, and that Israel had to take Arab public opinion into account.

“As you move toward more democratic, more representative and responsive governments, Israel needs to take into account the changing dynamic and the need to reach out to public opinion across the region,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes also said that in his upcoming visit, Obama wants mainly to hear what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had to say about the peace process. Rhodes also said the administration would have to talk to Israel’s new government before deciding on whether to embark on a new peace initiative.

Coalition pact confirms U.S. view

The guidelines of the new government confirm the U.S. administration’s assessment that a diplomatic breakthrough is unlikely. The Americans had hoped in vain to see in the new government’s guidelines the term “two-state solution,” or at least an indirect reference to Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, in which he stated his commitment to the idea.

Instead, the guidelines state in a non-binding way: “Israel will seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the goal of reaching a diplomatic agreement that will end the conflict. If a diplomatic agreement is reached it will be brought before the cabinet, the Knesset, and if necessary, a public referendum.”

Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, will not have many people to work with on the Palestinian question in the new government. Their interlocutors will be presumptive Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu’s envoy Isaac Molho and of course, Netanyahu himself.

The Americans have no expectations on the Palestinian issue from the new defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon of Likud. They will try to get him to offer the Palestinians goodwill gestures and may also try to discuss with him the possibility of a construction freeze in the settlements. But mainly they hope that at least Ya’alon will not get in the way. To judge by the coalition agreement his party signed, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid will not be crucial in talks with the Americans. The Palestinian question appears in the penultimate paragraph to do the minimum required: “The government will act to renew the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.”

The coalition agreement with Habayit Hayehudi has no reference at all to the Palestinian issue other than the fact that its chairman, Naftali Bennett, will be a member of the ministerial committee on the peace process. Bennett will be there to make clear that as long as talk does not turn into action, there is no problem, but if it does, count him out. Bennett also made sure his party has two representatives on the ministerial committee on settlement, a euphemistic name for a committee whose purpose is to legalize illegal outposts.

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