Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Blog

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Coming on the heels of the Israeli government's distressing approval of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, yesterday's meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu has the potential for setting a new path for Mideast peace talks. 

The much talked about recent flare-up between the U.S. and Israel could take the course of previous confrontations, maintaining the untenable status quo.  However, given the clarity and firmness of the recent statements by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, General David Petraeus and other senior officials, it is simply not possible for the President to acquiesce without ramifications for America's standing in the world.  In the statements of these officials, one finds the cornerstone of U.S. policy:  unequivocal support for Israeli security, reaffirmation of the special, but not exclusive nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the clear intent of a superpower to act in its own national security interests. 

Secretary Clinton addressed U.S. interests last week when she called upon the Israeli government to rescind the approval of the new settlements and again when she did not back down in her speech before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual conference. "Both sides must confront the reality that the status quo of the last decade has not produced long-tem security or served the interest of Israelis, Palestinians, or the people of the region.  Nor has it served the interests of the United States." stated Secretary Clinton.  The emphasis on U.S. security is key and she expounded on it further in unscripted comments not found in her prepared remarks.  Noting that in contrast to her travels and meetings during the 1990s, leaders from all over the world regularly mention the Arab-Israeli conflict now.  This is similar to the sentiment conveyed by General Petraeus referring to the conflict affecting our standing in the world during his recent testimony to the Senate.

Further, the substance of our policy was expanded upon on the world stage by the recent joint statement of the Quartet calling on the Israeli government to "freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem."  The statement added, "The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties." 

While we may not know exactly what happened at the White House meeting, recent declarations and standing U.S. policy give us a clear sense of what should.  With this backdrop to their meeting, President Obama should hold Prime Minister Netanyahu accountable for actions and policies that run counter to Israeli, Palestinian and perhaps most importantly, our interest and demand that constructive actions are taken to facilitate the resumption of peace talks.  The alternative is to do nothing in the face of the Netanyahu government's intransigence while the quartet (Russia, the European Union and the United Nations), the Arab World, the American people and the rest of the world are watching.  

In his Cairo speech, President Obama laid out a vision for the region.  In his first year in office, he made strong statements on Israeli settlement policy (examples can be found on 5/18/09, 9/4/09, and 9/23/09). Then he backed down - on settlements and on the Goldstone report.  Recent U.S. statements and that of the Quartet are a signal to Israel that we are serious now.  Netanyahu's statements since then are a signal that he doesn't really believe us.  In their face-to-face meeting, President Obama cannot back down again. He really does have something to prove - and indeed, accomplish.