It’s hardly surprising that President Barack Obama chose to schedule a White House visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the dead of night on Monday, because right now Obama has little to show for his 10-month effort to revive a Middle East peace process. The Israeli leader’s refusal to abide by Washington’s demand for a complete freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — and the Palestinians’ refusal to enter talks without one — has left the Obama Administration’s plans in tatters, with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to resign and pull the plug on the PA and the peace process of which it forms a part.
Netanyahu insists that Israel is ready for unconditional talks; he blames the stalemate on the Palestinians for making the settlement freeze a precondition. But Netanyahu also refuses to accept that such talks be directed toward establishing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital — and that’s the minimum the Palestinians are prepared to accept. Abbas, meanwhile, feels betrayed that the Obama Administration has backed down from its own insistence that Israel halt construction in occupied territory. That, say the Palestinians, is clear evidence that Washington won’t pressure Israel to do things it’s not willing to do, and that it’s therefore pointless to go through the motions of yet another series of negotiations with an Israeli government more hawkish than its predecessors. (See pictures of Obama’s overseas trips.)
Obama had prioritized resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But his demands — of a complete settlement freeze by Israel and reciprocal gestures toward normalizing ties with Israel by Arab governments — has been rejected on both sides. And while no recent Administration has had much success in this realm, veterans of the peace process concur that the President’s initial approach was flawed. It may have even done more harm than good, they argue, by raising expectations that could not be met, leaving both sides mistrustful of Washington’s intentions and creating a situation where either Netanyahu or Abbas would be painted into a corner. (That turned out to be Abbas, after Netanyahu rejected Obama’s demands.)