Beyond a long-awaited photo op demonstrating cordiality, what's on tap today for the meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
That’s not to downplay the importance of a warm public meeting – conveying solidarity and a strong alliance — which some supporters of Israel complain is something they haven't seen enough of from the Obama administration, though today will be their fifth meeting since Netanyahu became prime minister.
As you may recall, the White House didn’t permit any public photographs of the President and Netanyahu during their meeting in March; the White House was upset at the Israelis announcing new settlements in Jerusalem during Vice President Biden’s visit there, which senior adviser David Axelrod called an “affront” and an “insult.”
But more substantively, today, what’s expected?
US officials are seeking:
• A commitment from Israel to make the transition into direct peace talks with the Palestinians.
“Certainly a major focus of the discussion will be around the progress that's been made so far in the proximity talks and the opportunity to make the transition into direct talks,” the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro told reporters this week.“We’ve always viewed the proximity talks as a mechanism to get to direct talks, which is where the real negotiations toward agreements and ultimately an agreement that will produce a two-state solution can be achieved.”
• A discussion of what additional steps Israel can take regarding alleviating the crisis in Gaza, and a review of recent steps taken by Israel regarding the liberalization of the kinds of goods and the kinds of commercial activity that can go through the crossings between Israel and Gaza.
• Greater commitment to stop Israeli settlement activity; the 10 month partial settlement freeze in the West Bank instituted by Netanyahu expires in September.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told me a few weeks ago that President Obama “has been clear what we need to do to seize this moment of opportunity here in the region to finally make peace. Peace where Israel feels secure and peace that is in balance with the Palestinians aspirations for sovereignty. That is possible. It is now the time, given where we are, to basically find that proper balance.”
Israeli officials are seeking:
• First and foremost, additional reassurance on pace of sanctions and other actions against Iran for its nuclear program
• A strong public demand by POTUS that the Palestinians agree to direct talks by a specific date. Israeli officials see Netanyahu’s 10 month settlement freeze as more than any prime minister has ever undertaken, and having been done in return for direct talks, which President Obama has yet to deliver.
• A public affirmation of commitments made by President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in an April 2004 letter on the final borders of the Jewish state – a letter sent around the time of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the Northern West Bank. Bush wrote that any final peace settlement should reflect "new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers," and that "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."
The Washington Times’ Eli Lake took a closer look at this story a couple days ago, which you can read HERE.