Freezing of settlements, if true, can help revive the peace process. Which is why Obama told his visiting Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, of a renewed hope that could help jump-start the peace process. But there may be many a slip between the lip and the cup, and Washington has to see to it that Israel does everything to keep its side of the bargain.
Obama’s putting down of foot has, no doubt, made a difference. His vision to compel Tel Aviv to freeze settlements before conflicting parties return to the table has started working. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, which defied the US president on Jewish settlements, has reportedly refrained from initiating new housing projects. This is welcome news. But the fact that hundreds of under-construction housing units in the West Bank are nearing completion, and no curbs have been put on them, is disturbing. If Israel is really interested in building real peace with Palestinians and Arabs, the policy of settlements and encroachment has to come to an end. This is why the Arab League and the Palestinians believe that peace cannot come piecemeal.
One hopes Mubarak’s visit to the White House, which comes close on the heels of similar visits by King Hussein of Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will break the current political impasse and bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.
The advent of President Obama and his bold positions on the Middle East generated unprecedented hope and euphoria in the Arab and Muslim world. When US Middle East envoy George Mitchell returns to the region, he must go beyond ‘stock taking’ and prevail on Israel to get ready for some serious and meaningful dialogue with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s resistance to a total suspension of settlements cannot be tolerated. Similarly, his call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is nothing but a delaying tactic. President Obama wants to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table and resolve this issue as soon as possible. This vision will become a reality only if Washington asserts itself and persuades Netanyahu to fall in line.
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