PHOTO: US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Senior administration officials have said that President Obama has concluded that a peace deal between Israel and Palestine is beyond reach before he leaves office.
Instead, Obama will press Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he hosts in Washington next week, “to take steps to preserve the mere possibility of a two-state solution”.
The officials said that the administration has become “realistic” that there might not even be negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials before Obama finishes his term in January 2017.
Rob Malley, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, said the US “faces the reality” for the first time in 20 years that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is not in the cards for the remainder” of a Presidency. This has “led to a reassessment not only of what we can do but of what the parties can do”.
Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Adviser, said, “From the prime minister, we’ll want to hear what his views are for how the Israeli government can take steps” to build confidence and “to make clear that there is an aspiration” for a two-state solution.
Those steps were not clear, although both officials said that Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements remains an issue.
“Sources close to the U.S. and Israeli governments” said Secretary of State John Kerry is particularly worried about the settlements and the possibility of “creeping annexation” by Israel.
Administration Winds Down Efforts Since 2009
At the outset of his Administration in 2009, Obama sought an advance on the Israel-Palestine issue through special envoy George Mitchell. However, the US President was soon beset by criticism from the Netanyahu Government, whose officials said the US President was naive and inexperienced, and Mitchell was challenged by others within the Administration as well as conditions set by the Israelis and Palestinians. He left his post in May 2011 with no significant advance.
After becoming Secretary of State in 2013, Kerry tried to restart the negotiations but limited Israeli-Palestinian talks offered no hope of a breakthrough. In his most recent trip to the region, the Secretary of State concentrated on steps to check violence which escalated in October, initially over concerns that the Netanyahu Government would allow prayers by Jews on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount complex which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque.
More than 70 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces last month, while 10 Israelis died in attacks by Palestinian assailants.