Tuesday, September 22, 2009

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York on Tuesday.

A picture freezes time in a moment, and might distort the event by removing context. In this one, Bibi seems enthusiastic (at least his hand is held up, his arm extended from the elbow); Abbas seems less so, his hand lower, arm not extended; both have equally firm smiles. Obama seems less enthused than either of his guests.

In this one, Obama is in a power pose.

President Obama inserted himself directly into the stalled Middle East peace negotiations on Tuesday, exhorting Israeli and Palestinian officials to make haste in formally relaunching peace talks and calling it “absolutely critical” that the two sides move quickly toward a comprehensive peace accord.

“It is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations, and time to move forward,” Mr. Obama said. His strong comments came just after he met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, but before he went into a three-way meeting intended to further drive home that message.

“Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the entrenched final status issues which have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979: the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to leave their homes.

“So my message to these two is clear,” Mr. Obama said, standing with Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu. “Despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward.”

That is rather forceful language. But ...

The failure of Mr. Mitchell to nail down an agreement with Israel on freezing settlements, which the administration views as vital for successful talks, came coupled with the administration’s failure, so far, to secure much support from the Arab world for Mr. Obama’s endeavors on the Middle East peace front. The White House would like Arab leaders to make diplomatic gestures toward Israel, which they believe would give Mr. Netanyahu the political cover he needs at home to make concessions to the Palestinians.

None of that, so far, has been forthcoming.

A commentator has it this way: The message that Obama must convey to Netanyahu when they meet today: If there is no Palestine in the next few years, there may be no Israel in the next century.

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