Obama pushes timetable for Mideast talks

Obama pushes timetable for Mideast talks

Mr. Obama and his aides have stressed the settlement-freeze issue as the key to developing support among the Arab states. Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t agreed to a complete freeze on building settlements, though he did agree earlier this year to a partial freeze.

The president and other senior U.S. officials focused Tuesday on the urgency of resuming talks. Mr. Obama met the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly. “Simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations,” Mr. Obama said before a trilateral meeting with Mr. Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. “Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon.”

Arab diplomats said Washington’s apparent softening on the settlement issue ran the risk of looking like a concession to Mr. Netanyahu. “This could seriously blow back against Abbas if there isn’t quick progress on talks,” said an Arab official closely involved in the peace process. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — When Obama picked Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, there was some reason to hope that Emanuel was going to function as Obama’s enforcer. The president could remain Mr Congeniality while, when the situation required it, Emanuel would be sent out to break knee-caps.

There were hints of this when earlier this summer it was reported that Netanyahu had been told he couldn’t meet Mitchell until he’d finished his “homework” on freezing settlements.

In the end, it turned out that “pressure” from the Obama administration amounts to strong words with no visible force behind them. It comes in the form of sternness — no doubt quite effective when Obama insists to Malia and Natasha that it’s bedtime, but not very impressive when it’s directed at the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Enough with the pressure — it’s time for some threats and then follow through. Obama needs to demonstrate through actions that he means what he says.

And while the Israelis would like to see linkage between the administration’s approach to the Middle East conflict and its engagement with Iran, here’s the contrast: pressure applied on a friend can often be more effective than pressure applied on an adversary. Israel has a lot to lose. It should not be allowed to take its close ties with the United States for granted.

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Editor’s Comment — As refreshing as Gavin Polone’s appeal is that the US stop treating Israel as an exception among all states, equally refreshing is Dylan Ratigan’s directness in posing his questions. (Hat tip to Mondoweiss.)

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