Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in America’s capital Monday to cold tempertures and expectations of an icy reception from the White House, according to Bloomberg News.
President Obama told Bloomberg reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that time was not on the Jewish state’s side, given the rate of construction in the West Bank and the demographics of the region.
“There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” Obama told Goldberg. “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
The president indicated he regarded Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate, despite reports of intransigence in his last two meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, and he is expected to press Netanyahu hard for acceptance of a United States-led framework for peace.
“The tango in the Middle East needs at least three,” Netanyahu said upon arriving in Washington, according to the Jerusalem Post. “For years there have been two — Israel and the U.S. Now it needs to be seen if the Palestinians are also present. In any case, in order for us to have an agreement, we must uphold our vital interests. I have proven that I do so, in the face of all pressures and all the turmoil, and I will continue to do so here as well.”
The prime minister will also speak before the powerful American Israeli Political Action Committee annual meeting, and meet with Vice President Joe Biden and leaders in Congress, the Post reported, adding that Abbas will visit Washington and meet with the president in several weeks.
Both men are under tremendous pressure from their right-wing constituencies. Settlers of the West Bank constitute a tremendous voting bloc in Netanyahu’s Likud Party and serve as his major coalition partner, while the vocal no-concessions wing of Abu Mazen’s (non de guerre of Abbas) Fatah leaves him little flexibility.
Paraphrasing Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, Obama told Bloomberg News that he would ask Netanyahu: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”
With no successor in sight for either Middle East leader, the questions may remain rhetorical.
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