No kid gloves for Obama in Israel

Warnings that he needs to act more forcefully to save the Jewish state.

The White House has played down expectations that Obama will put any real effort into pressing Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state after he was burnt by an attempt early in his first term to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into halting Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories.

But there is increasing concern among some of Israel's backers in the US that without White House intervention, the much-promised two-state solution is doomed, and that that will endanger the Jewish state.

Among those sounding the warning is US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said earlier this year that "the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous, in my judgment".

It emerged this week that Kerry is to return to Jerusalem this weekend to follow up on the visit. Obama and his entourage leave Israel for Jordan on Friday afternoon, but Kerry heads back on Saturday for further talks over dinner with Netanyahu. He had not been expected to return to the region until next month.

Heightened concerns
The inclusion of hardline pro-settler ministers in Netanyahu's new government, who are expected to press for the continued expansion of Israel's colonies in the West Bank, has heightened concerns in Washington that physical realities on the ground are making the prospect of a negotiated agreement ever more difficult.

Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and now vice-president of the Brookings Institution, said it is clear there is a growing sense of alarm among some policymakers in the US. But he said it may be misplaced.

"My sense is that this is the view of Secretary Kerry – that there's an urgency to try to not just resume negotiations but to resolve at least some of the critical issues in the ­conflict because the two-state solution is in danger of cardiac arrest. I think there is an urgency but I don't actually think that if the window closes it can't be pried open again."

Yet both Israelis and Palestinians remain sceptical about the chances of any real movement. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian legislator, this week criticised the stated goal of the Obama visit – listening to both sides.

"The issue is not about listening, but realising the reality of the situation and dealing with it," he said. "The passivity of the US is dangerous at a time when the whole notion of the two-state solution is at risk. Passivity is unacceptable." – © Guardian News & Media 2013

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Chris Mcgreal
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