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Middle East Watch

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.

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 20, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Middle East  
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"Why the relative black-out in the news columns of American newspapers? Beats me."

This idea hasn't really ever been proposed before, has it? Perhaps they don't know how to cover stories that they don't have predetermined opinions about?

Posted by: BigTunaTim | May 20, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Obama planned Palestinian state will be nothing short of a joke. The Palestinians will not be allowed a military and forbidden to enter into treaties with other countries. In fact, Palestinians will remain dependent and still in the occupation under the Israeli Jews.

If the Jerusalem Post story is true, I hope the Palestinians and arab countries will not accept the Obama plan. The Palestinians need to be completely free of the Israeli Jews with no connect inorder for them to have peace and security. Otherwise, they might as well stay in their present situation until real change comes to the Middle East. Israel will not retain its status as the only superpower in the Middle East indefinitely.

Posted by: marge9 | May 20, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Dan - Christopher Dickey just covered this in a report on King Abdullah and John Kerry's recent low profile meet at World Econ Forum. He discusses Abullah's tough task in acting as whip in rounding up the Arabs on a regional deal.

But, yeah, the US press spin hasn't been picking up on this much. Other than Bibi et al insisting that Israel and the Arabs now share a common enemy, so it should be time for them to get together. All, of course, in Bibi's view to happen before Israel-Palestine is solved. Which of course is why no one is paying much attention to Bibi's announced strategy.

If O, Abudullah et al make some sort of progress pre Cairo, look for Bibi to make like this is all his own plan and then start throwing the spanners in the works.

Interesting that Mubarak's visist is now called off. Though the death of a grandson is certainly a legitimate enough excuse.

Posted by: nadezhda04 | May 20, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

And after all this, the Palestinians will be getting about the same deal that they would have gotten if the Reagan Administration had elected to continue the Camp David Talks starting in 1981. In practical terms, it's like there's been some kind of time warp since 1979 except for a brief interlude when James Baker was in charge of Middle East policy under the first Bush Administration with Bush senior. What a way to run a country.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | May 20, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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

Remember what you wrote in the piece just before:

"Here's one thing that hasn't changed in the Obama era: Republicans are still able to come up with scare tactics that turn Senate Democrats into a terrified and incoherent bunch of mewling babies."

Just substitute "the Israel lobby" for Republicans, and "major American Media" for Senate Democrats. Democratic Senators are veritable lions compared to the kowtowing of major American media before AIPAC.

It is unclear how hard Obama is willing to pressure Netanyahu. It is unclear whether he is really willing to stand up for a Palestinian state within 1967 borders with real sovereignty and the power to defend itself; a share of Jerusalem; and justice for refugees, probably to be exercised in Gaza and the West Bank. Unfortunately, Obama's m.o. so far has been to cave under pressure.

As long as it is unclear which way the wind is blowing, no major American media has the guts to take on the Israel lobby and get out in front of this story.

If Obama takes a bold stand - some will. Probably not the Neo-Cons at the Post, though. (I'm thinking of Krauthammer and Hiatt, not you, Mr. Froomkin).

Posted by: HankNTennessee | May 20, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

For an example of what more honest media are saying, take a look at the august "Economist", which begs Obama: "Don't Hold Back".

Posted by: HankNTennessee | May 20, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Why hasn't the American media covered the latest noise emanating from the Obama administration? Maybe cynicism resulting from years of numerous false starts and insincere posturing from both sides has something to do with the journalistic malaise. When something truly substantive occurs (if ever), then one can bet that the media (and cable news in particular) will be crawling all over the story.

Posted by: MillPond2 | May 20, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Israel and Netanyahu are faithless and untrustworthy. Israel lacks the will to stand up to the settler movement, and the squatters know it. They break the law with impunity and Netanyahu has no real interest in enforcing it. The settlers are literally land thieves, building on others' property and for some perverse religious reason are at once under protection of the Israeli military. Obama is not even calling for the dismantling of settlements, only a halt to their construction; Israel will stall and dodge and lie, will never keep up its end of a bargain, and the theft will go on, and for some sick reason we will just put up with it.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 21, 2009 1:55 AM | Report abuse

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