Middle East Watch

By Dan Froomkin
12:30 PM ET, 05/20/2009

In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Oval Office visit, I wrote yesterday about what appears to be President Obama's
stealth Middle East peace plan.

What I'm seeing today suggests that the plan may put Netanyahu under more pressure than his public appearance with Obama indicated.

David Ignatius writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "The Obama strategy over the next few months will be to create a regional framework for peace negotiations that's enticing enough to draw in the wary Netanyahu. To give Israel some quick tangible benefits, the United States wants the Arabs to begin normalizing relations with the Jewish state. Jordan's King Abdullah describes this promise of recognition by the Arab League nations as a '23-state solution.'

"The key to this front-loading strategy is Saudi Arabia. But the Saudis warn privately that they won't normalize anything unless Israel makes some dramatic moves -- such as freezing settlements in the occupied West Bank -- that demonstrate its commitment to the 2003 'road map' for peace.

"To break this logjam, the Obama administration appears ready to lean hard on Netanyahu. Obama has a range of options, starting with criticism of Israel for failing to meet the road map conditions and escalating to tougher measures."

The Jerusalem Post Web site reports that Wednesday's Yediot Ahronot newspaper outlines the details of Obama's plan. "The US president's initiative, which was formulated in consultation with Jordan's King Abdullah II during the two leaders' recent meetings at the White House, reportedly does not significantly stray from the pan-Arab peace initiative proposed in 2002...

"Obama is expected to present the initiative in an address to the Arab and Muslim world from Cairo in three weeks, and set out conditions for a demilitarized Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, within the next four years....

"The matter of borders will be solved with territorial exchanges between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Old City of Jerusalem will be established as an international zone."

Donald Macintyre writes for the Independent: "Amid a series of differences between the US and Israel's right wing-led government over Jewish settlements, Iran, and a two-state solution, one possible area of common ground began tentatively to emerge in the wake of the White House meeting. This is the idea of 'phased normalisation' by the Arab states in return for movement by Israel towards Palestinian demands.

"Thinking in Washington continues to evolve on a possible comprehensive regional solution in the Middle East."

Why the relative black-out in the news columns of American newspapers? Beats me.

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