U.S. President Barack Obama will try to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the two-state solution to the Palestinian question. The two will certainly address that question when they meet on Monday, according to government sources in Washington. Obama will put the creation of a Palestinian state in the foreground of the discussions intended to reactivate the Near East peace process.
At his inauguration in January, Obama promised to give the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians a high priority in his administration. Beyond that, the sources also say Obama intends to strengthen his opposition to further construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank territories.
Netanyahu is already en route to Washington. Shortly before his departure, the prime minister’s closest advisors re-emphasized that Netanyahu would continue to reject the creation of a Palestinian state. Ophir Akunis, a senior member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, told Israeli radio that such a state would fall under the control of the radical Islamic Hamas movement in any case. Hamas, which controls Gaza, refuses to reject violence, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and refuses to abide by agreements previously reached between Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu wants, above all, to brief Obama on Iran’s nuclear program, something he sees as a threat to Israel’s existence. He has indicated that he considers that threat far more pressing than continuing the peace process. While in the United States, he will also meet with Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Both Israeli and American sources say up front that they do not expect any tension between Obama and Netanyahu. “The inbuilt and natural alliance between the United States and Israel ensures a good dialogue,” said Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, adding “There is a strong basis for positive chemistry” between Obama and Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, now serving for the second time as Israeli Prime Minister, met in that capacity with then-President Bill Clinton in 1996. It later came out that the meeting resulted in a good deal of resentment. Clinton is reported to have gone into a rage after Netanyahu’s departure because Netanyahu had tried to lecture him about Israeli-Arab relations, according to the New York Times.
No significant breakthrough toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians was achieved during the eight years of the Bush administration. Obama is now pursuing a Near East policy that diverges significantly from Netanyahu’s views – particularly on the issue of a two-state solution and the continued construction of Israeli settlements. Netanyahu especially wishes to build more settlements in East Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in 1967, and later annexed. Obama has offered Iran a new beginning in relations after decades of confrontation. Suspicion still exists in both Israel and the United States, however, that Iran’s ultimate goal with its nuclear program is the production of atomic weapons.