Push and Pushback
Yesterday, the President met with Jordan's King Abdullah, and in public comments nudged the new Israeli leadership to accept the international goal of a Palestinian state as the only way to produce peace in the region.
In White House talks, Obama reassured Jordan's King Abdullah of his commitment to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, despite reluctance by Netanyahu's new right-leaning government to support eventual Palestinian statehood.
Obama reiterated his promise to "deeply engage" in efforts to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and predicted good-faith gestures from both sides in coming months.
"What we have to do is step back from the abyss," Obama told reporters after meeting Abdullah in the Oval Office [...]
"I agree that we can't talk forever, that at some point steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground. And that will be something that we will expect to take place in the coming months," Obama said.
Adding to pressure on Netanyahu, Obama added, "I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have articulated that publicly, and I will articulate that privately. And I think that there are a lot of Israelis who also believe in a two-state solution."
And the response?
The new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Tehran's rising influence in the region, according to top government officials familiar with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's developing policy on the issue.
"It's a crucial condition if we want to move forward," said Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, a member of the Israeli parliament and former ambassador to the United States. "If we want to have a real political process with the Palestinians, then you can't have the Iranians undermining and sabotaging." [...]
U.S. officials are wary of linking the two issues and, if anything, would like to do the reverse of what Israel has proposed, by using progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks to curb Iranian influence, which is wielded in the region through anti-Israeli organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
"We have to be pretty careful how you approach that kind of connection," said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "We are dealing with Iran because there are behaviors out there that are deeply troubling. We would be doing that regardless of other issues. By the same token, the Palestinian issue is an issue that obviously evokes a great deal in the region."
I suppose this is progress, leaving open the door for agreement on a two-state solution. But in the long run, these views are irreconcilable. And Netanyahu appears to be deliberately thumbing his nose at the President by hiring an Israeli ambassador to Washington who strongly supported John McCain.
Charm will only go so far in this case. There are deep divisions.