Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Obama to meet Netanyahu in Washington this morning

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in Washington today for their first meeting since their last cold encounter where Obama left Netanyahu waiting alone with his aides while the U.S. president enjoyed dinner and personal time with his family. The meeting took place just after Netanyahu embarrassed both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden when 1600 housing units were approved for construction in East Jerusalem during Biden's visit to Israel.

Both leaders now will convene again with very clear desires they hope to wrangle from the other. Netanyahu is looking first and foremost for Obama to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct negotiations with Israel. For his part, Obama is expected to persuade Netanyahu to extend the 10-month settlement "freeze" set to expire in September. Netanyahu will almost certainly claim that he can do no such thing unless he is able to begin negotiating directly with the Palestinian Authority. The Washington Post reports that Obama and Congressional Democrats are also looking for a media opportunity to characterize their candidates and president as sufficiently pro-Israel. Netanyahu is also taking heat at home for the recent rift between his administration and the Obama administration in Washington, and a photo op would certainly benefit him domestically as well.

While not amounting to the direct negotiations Israel seeks, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad recently met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the first high-level meeting between the two administrations in nearly a year. During the meeting Fayyad requested that Israel allow Palestinian security forces greater police access to areas in the West Bank currently under full Israeli military control and for the suspension of the IDF's "hot pursuit" incursions into Palestinian cities and population centers, as Fayyad claims it undermines his government's authority and legitmacy with the Palestinian people in the West Bank.

Following the meeting, Barak asked Netanyahu to provide Obama a clear peace plan, detailing a proposed border and possible security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Barak stated,

Israel must pull that bull by the horns [during the meeting with Obama] and present a clear initiative that discusses drawing a border in Israel in a way that settlement blocs along the border will remain in our hands and have a solid Jewish majority for generations, but in a way that will enable the establishment of an independent and demilitarized Palestinian state.

A press conference is expected to take place after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. I will provide updates as to the outcomes of the meeting soon.

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