President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are meeting Monday to discuss the Middle East which has transformed 20 years ago when many believed Israel and Palestine were close to a peace agreement which bring lasting peace to the turbulent region. The assasinaton of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 halted peace negotiations.
Netanyahu’s policies have strongly differed from his predecessor. The White House admits it has given up on a breakthrough that would end tensions between Israelis and Palestinians while Obama is in office. In recent years, threats from radical Islam and Iran have changed the landscape even more, to the point that today, Israel’s Arab neighbors no longer rank the plight of Palestinians as the region’s greatest issue. As a result, those threats will take up much of the discussion time between Obama and Netanyahu, who arrives in Washington on Monday.
Netanyahu, who infuriated the White House by urging Congress, in an address in March at the Republican leadership’s invitation, to reject an emerging accord with Iran, hopes the talks will help outline a new 10-year military aid package for his country. While that issue will be on the agenda of Netanyahu’s talks with Obama, U.S. officials said the president would also press Netanyahu for steps to keep alive the possibility of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel. In public remarks to his cabinet on Sunday about his Washington visit, Netanyahu spoke only in general terms about “possible progress with the Palestinians, or at least, stabilising the situation when it comes to them”.
He said the Syrian crisis and U.S. military aid for Israel would also be discussed in his first meeting in 13 months with Obama. The Democratic president and the conservative Israeli leader have little personal chemistry and have clashed often over the Iranian and Palestinian issues. In a conference call with reporters last week, Rob Malley, the U.S. National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf region, reiterated Obama’s view that he would leave office without an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Malley said, Washington wanted to hear ideas from Netanyahu on how to stabilize the current situation and sought a signal from both sides that “they are still committed to and moving towards a two-state solution”. During Netanyahu’s re-election campaign earlier this year, the right-wing Likud party leader vowed there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Even when Netanyahu backtracked and insisted he was not reneging on long-time policy, the White House was unconvinced.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas — who leads the West Bank — has sought to isolate Israel on the international stage by seeking war crime charges against Israel and Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court, calling for U.N. recognition of Palestinian “statehood” and promoting a campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.
And the Islamist militant group Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip has launched a series of wars with Israel, most recently last year, resulting in destruction and blame on both sides. Twenty years ago, while he was in power, Rabin rejected a military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and argued that in order to preserve the state of Israel as Jewish and democratic, a separate state for Palestinians needed to be created, said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator who is now vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Rabin believed Israel should solve its inner problems first, to be in a better position to deal with the serious, but then geographically distant, threats of radical Islam and Iran, Miller said. “Rabin made heroic and historic decisions in a Middle East that looked completely different. Never has (Israel’s) fate been so inextricably linked to a region in chaos,” he said.
When Netanyahu took office, he insisted peace could come only with security. He refused to engage in the peace process while Palestinian attacks on Israelis persisted, and he expanded settlement construction, angering Palestinians who sought those lands for a future state.
Israel now receives $3.1 billion from the United States annually and wants $5 billion per year for 10 years, for a total of $50 billion, Congressional officials have told Reuters.