Netanyahu expected to sell Obama on goodwill gestures to Palestinians

Netanyahu expected to sell Obama on goodwill gestures to Palestinians

Confidence-building measures to include easing checkpoints and green-lighting projects, but not settlement freeze, according to Israeli report

Barack Obama, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in 2013. (Pete Souza/The White House/File)
Barack Obama, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in 2013. (Pete Souza/The White House/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will unveil a series of goodwill gestures aimed at the Palestinians when he meets with US president Barack Obama this week, Israeli officials have reportedly said.

The moves, which have still not been finalized, were detailed by national security adviser Yossi Cohen to American counterpart Susan Rice last week, according to a report in Israeli daily Haaretz Sunday.

The confidence-building steps will be aimed at stemming an ongoing wave of violence in the West Bank, and will include easing restrictions on movement and okaying Palestinian infrastructure projects, according to the report.

Netanyahu is slated to meet Obama on Monday morning in Washington. The sit-down will be the first meeting between the two leaders in over a year, during which already shaky ties between the leaders became further frayed over the Palestinian issue and disagreement over how to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Last week, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told Israeli reporters that the president would want to hear from Netanyahu on Monday ways in which the prime minister will seek to keep a two-state solution viable even in the absence of direct negotiations.

Rhodes said Obama regards a two-state solution as urgent, and reiterated the US stance that settlement building undermines faith in the diplomatic process and delays such a solution.

However, on Thursday US officials said Obama had made a “realistic assessment” that a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians is not possible during his final months in office.

Officials said the two leaders will discuss steps to prevent a confrontation between the parties in the absence of a two-state solution.

They said that while Obama remains committed to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, he does not believe it’s possible before he leaves office in January 2017, barring a major shift.

The two leaders will likely discuss means to prevent a further deterioration on the ground, including how to thwart further terrorism; tackle incitement more effectively; deal with the strained Palestinian Authority; and safeguard Israeli-Jordanian relations.

Netanyahu is not expected to bring up a moratorium or slow-down in settlement construction, though Obama is expected to push for one, according to Haaretz.

The president expects that Netanyahu will take trust-building steps that “leave the door open for a two-state solution,” said Rob Malley, the president’s senior adviser on the Middle East, according to the paper. “We said for some time that we expect from both parties to show that they are committed to a two-state solution. We would expect they take steps that are consistent with that.”

No meeting is known to be scheduled for the near future between Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Obama and Netanyahu will be meeting face-to-face for the first time since the US and its partners reached a nuclear accord with Iran. Netanyahu has been a chief critic of the deal.

On that vexed issue, the meeting could mark the day when Netanyahu finally engages with the administration on the practical implications of the deal, enabling the two sides to get down to work coordinating their positions on countering the threats posed by an emboldened and soon-to-be wealthier Iran, and on the appropriate responses to possible Iranian violations of the deal.

The two leaders are expected to announce that their allied countries are at work on a new long-term agreement for US defense assistance to Israel. The current 10-year framework, which provided for over $30 billion in US military aid, expires in 2018, and there has been talk of a new 10-year framework valued at $40-50 billion in total.

Obama and Netanyahu are expected to discuss commitments that could see Israel get more than the 33 hi-tech F-35 jets already ordered, precision munitions and a chance to buy V-22 Ospreys and other weapons systems designed to ensure Israel’s military edge over its neighbors.

The weapons said to be under discussion reflect the prominence of Iran in US and Israeli military thinking.

The F-35 is the only aircraft able to counter the S-300 surface-to-air missile system that Russia has suggested it may sell to Tehran.

Officials said Israel may also seek to ensure that other US allies in the region do not get the F-35.

The White House has so far rebuffed Arab Gulf states’ requests to buy the planes.

But while Israel has been offered some bunker-busting bombs, divisions over how to handle Tehran may put the sale of 30,000 pound “Massive Ordnance Penetrators” that could be used to target Iranian nuclear sites off the table.

“This is not something that has been raised in the context of the MoU discussions,” said Rhodes, referring to the deal, known formally as a memorandum of understanding.

Military experts say Israel’s lack of bunker-busting capability has limited Netanyahu’s ability to launch a unilateral strike against Iran, effectively giving Washington a veto over military action.

The visit, Rhodes said, “would be an opportunity to discuss and hear from Israel its assessment of its security challenges and the related security needs it has… whether it is something like the F-35 or a variety of others.”

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