Speaking the other day President Obama had this to say:
"Given how important I think the situation in the Middle East is, and our partnership with Israel which is stronger than it's ever been, when I go to Israel I want to make sure that we're actually moving something forward,"
and American Ambassador Dan Shapiro added:
"President Obama is not coming with conditions or demands. He is coming to confer with all our partners about problems and challenges we are dealing with in the region." He said Obama would not seek "a specific result" in any discussions related to "bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table."
The White House reiterated this through:
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed to reporters on Wednesday that Obama would bring no peace proposal with him, and will instead focus on discussions on issues of mutual concern to Israel and the US.
The timing of the visit is tied to the new administrations in both Israel and the United States, Carney said.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren speaking to MSNBC reiterated that position saying:
Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, told MSNBC that the purpose of the visit was not to relaunch peace talks.
"The White House has made very clear that the purpose of the trip is to strengthen an already historic bond between Israel and the United States. I think it sent a powerful message to the Middle East at a time of great uncertainty and upheaval throughout the region, and I think that is the purpose of the trip," Oren said
BUT..... Outgoing Deputy PM Danny Ayalon contradicted them by with this:
Israel's outgoing deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said earlier Wednesday that Obama wants to host a summit between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit, which is tentatively set for late March or early April. Ayalon said he was "certain" preparations for such a summit were already under way.
AND in two related stories:
Yitzhak Molcho, the Netanyahu administration's special envoy to Ramallah, will reportedly be dispatched to the US next week to discuss ways of advancing talks with the Palestinians, adding to speculation that a peace plan is in the works.
as well as this from Haaretz:
A senior member of Netanyahu's Likud party who is involved in the coalition talks said Tuesday that Netanyahu is considering acceding to Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni's demand to appoint her as minister in charge of talks with the Palestinians.
SO... what is the truth of this?
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has come under heavy fire from some own members of his party. Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister (Likud) Dan Meriador surprised everyone today with some harsh criticism of the Netanyahu settlement policy.
In a setback for Netanyahu, a close political ally criticized Israel's settlement policies, saying continued construction deep inside the West Bank has undermined Israel's credibility and could threaten the country's long-term survival.
"We could pay a great price," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, a senior member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, warned on Israeli Radio....
....But on the radio, Meridor said the government was sending mixed signals to the world by speaking in favor of Palestinian independence while settling Israelis on lands claimed by the Palestinians.
He said Israel should limit construction to major settlement "blocs" and existing Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, and halt construction in outlying areas. Israel is expected to keep these settlements under any future peace deal.
"There is a lack of consistency between our claim of wanting two states ... and the fact that we don't limit building to the blocs only," he said. By sending this mixed message, "we cast doubt on our intentions and statements, and this is costing us a very high price."
Meridor stressed that establishment of a Palestinian state is in Israel's interests. Without a partition, most demographers believe that the Arab population under Israeli control could soon outnumber Jews.
The Haaretz daily on Thursday, citing two unidentified officials, quoted Netanyahu's national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, as warning that Israel's settlement policies were hurting its standing with key allies.
"It's impossible to explain the issue of settlement construction anyplace in the world," he was quoted as saying. "Construction in the settlements has become a diplomatic problem and is causing Israel to lose support even among its friends in the West."
Meanwhile the Palestinians say that they want to the President to visit and put some heat on the Israelis to end settlements and get back to the negotiating table. Their two demands: Start negotiations based on the the 1967 borders (and they have expressed willingness to compromise there in the past) AND cease ALL settlement construction, even in the established settlement blocs.
Expressing support for a two-state solution ahead of US President Barack Obama's spring visit, senior Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub said Thursday that "the Americans are the only ones who can build a bridge to peace."
IMPORTANT NOTE:: Rajoub was the guy who said this: "Asked about leaving blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as part of the framework of the two-state solution, Rajoub rejected the idea out of hand. "Absolutely not. There is not room for even one settler" beyond the pre-1967 lines, he said. The fact that it was even discussed at at earlier negotiations at Camp David was a "mistake,"
"We believe he has good intentions, but in order for him to succeed, he should realize the reasons for the failure of the previous round of talks and avoid them," said Mohammed Ishtayeh, a senior Palestinian negotiator. "Mainly he needs to get involved personally and put real pressure on Israel......
.....Ishtayeh said the Palestinians would not budge on their demands for a settlement freeze or their insistence that the 1967 borders remain the baseline for negotiations. He also ruled out an interim agreement while final borders can be worked out.
SO... what's really happening. Well if it were my guess - and I think it is here.... I think that there is something in the works regarding at least a re-opening in the Peace Process. The fact that Likud-Betainu is talking to Tzipi Livni and has had two meetings with the Center and Left parties BEFORE he has even met with the Rightists is telling. Also, sending Molcho to Washington to brief Secretary of State Kerry prior to his visit later this month I think means something is afoot.
It may not be much and I would bet money that it will not amount to much but one never knows. There is a great deal of instability in the region with the Iranians flexing diplomatic muscle and heading to Egypt to make nice with President Morsi along with the electoral situation in Jordan, where the King faces growing radicalism and opposition to his rule, to the chaos in Syria and the increasing power of Hizbollah in Lebanon.
So, I imagine that the President is heading there to try to stabilize the Israeli / Palestinian situation as he tries to deal with the mess that heading his way from the increasing radicalization of political movements in the Arab World. But it is not only the Arab World. The American policy has long been one of support for Two States for Two Peoples. The increased settlements in the West Bank (Occupied Territory), as Meriador points out do cause an issue with the international community and honestly they will eventually cause an existential crises within Israel itself as the demographics of the country would change with annexation or permanent occupation of the Arab areas of the West Bank.
On the other hand, the Palestinians themselves refuse to recognize Israel as it was formed to be (as the National Homeland and State of the Jewish People) AND the political situation within the Palestinian polity is questionable at best, with Hamas gaining more power again after their mini-War in November. The Israelis, quite understandably are not really willing to give up a lot of land and then having to deal with Hamas (a force dedicated to Israel's destruction) all of a sudden sitting in some very strategic areas.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama are stepping into a Belagan - I say Kol HaKvod ("All the respect" - literally, "Total respect - Way to go" figuratively ). I hope they have some success here so that Israel and America can move forward and so Israelis and Palestinians can find a way to make peace (as unlikely as it seems).