For five months, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been fending off U.S. pressure to halt the expansion of West Bank settlements. Now he is reaping dividends for his defiance.
Although Israeli leaders have historically been reluctant to publicly break with the United States for fear of paying a price in domestic support, polls show that Netanyahu’s strategy is working. And that means that after months of diplomacy, the quick breakthrough that President Obama had hoped would restart peace talks has instead turned into a familiar stalemate.
Arab states largely have rebuffed Obama’s request for an overture to Israel until the settlement issue is resolved — a stand that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak emphasized in a meeting with Obama on Tuesday — and the Palestinians have said a settlement freeze is a precondition for resuming negotiations. Meanwhile, the Israeli public seems to have rallied around Netanyahu’s refusal to halt all settlement construction, a backlash that intensified when the Obama administration made clear that it wanted Israel to stop building Jewish homes in some parts of Jerusalem as well as in the occupied West Bank. [continued…]
President Obama said Tuesday that the Middle East peace process was in a “rut,” and prodded Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to help break an Arab-Israeli standoff that has frustrated the administration’s effort to restart talks.
“If all sides are willing to move off of the rut that we’re in currently, then I think there is an extraordinary opportunity to make real progress,” Obama said in an appearance with Mubarak at the White House. “But we’re not there yet.” [continued…]