Scant Hope of Breakthrough as Barack Obama's Mideast Trip Looms

Many Questions But Few Answers With Israel Awaiting Visit

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By Reuters

Published March 18, 2013.
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The White House believes Israelis have yet to reach a consensus on how to confront Iran, according to a source familiar with the administration’s thinking, who added that Obama would stress the need for patience with sanctions and diplomacy. U.S. officials also hope a high-profile recommitment to Israel’s security will increase public pressure on Netanyahu to avoid aggravating the situation while negotiations continue.

NO “GRAND PEACE PLAN”

Obama is likely to press both the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, but he told American Jewish leaders in private before the trip that he did not intend to deliver a “grand peace plan” during the visit. Participants said the president did not preclude the possibility of launching an initiative in six months or a year.

The mood was very different at the start of his first term, when Obama said peace between Israelis and Palestinians was a top priority. His 2009 “new beginning” speech in Cairo raised Palestinian hopes of establishing a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Obama revived direct peace talks in 2010, but they collapsed soon afterwards when Netanyahu refused to bow to Palestinian demands to extend a partial freeze on settlement building.

Both the Palestinians and Israelis felt let down by Obama, for very different reasons. The Israelis begrudged the fact that at the start of his first term, he publicly told Israel to halt all Jewish settlement building, saying this put unfair pressure on Netanyahu to make unilateral concessions.

The Palestinians were furious when Obama then backed away from his demand over settlement construction, saying the peace talks were doomed unless Washington twisted Israel’s arm.

Both sides say that without a serious U.S. engagement, the chances of a deal are close to zero. However, few U.S. analysts expect Obama to expend much political capital on an elusive peace accord that has tied up so many of his predecessors.


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