A Mideast Test for President Obama

[Washington Post] Jackson Diehl - As the UN General Assembly meets in late September, President Obama aims to announce the opening of a new negotiating process between Israelis and Palestinians, along with "confidence-building" steps by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and a number of Arab governments. Though Obama will not offer a specific American "blueprint" for a peace settlement - as a number of Arab governments have urged him to do - he will probably lay out at least a partial vision of the two-state settlement that all sides now say they support, and the course that negotiations should take. More significantly, he intends to set an ambitious timetable for completing the peace deal - something that will please Arabs but may irritate Israel. Several Israeli and Arab officials I spoke to last week depicted the effort as a waste of the new administration's time and political capital. Obama's Mideast envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, has become embroiled in protracted and publicly fractious negotiations with the Israeli government over whether and for how long it will freeze Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have repeatedly and publicly dismissed the idea of taking steps toward normalization of relations with Israel. Both sides seem fairly confident that Mitchell and Netanyahu will reach a deal on the settlement issue; but it will be a messy compromise that will be time-limited and probably fall short of the complete halt in building that the administration has repeatedly sought.

2009-08-24 08:00:00

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