Mr. Netanyahu at the White House
Both were desperate to show their voters that their frigid relationship has warmed. So they posed — smiling — for an official photo, spoke with reporters and shared lunch. There was plenty of upbeat rhetoric. The two leaders expressed hope that direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — following the current “proximity talks” conducted by George Mitchell, the American envoy — would begin before Israel’s limited moratorium on settlement construction is due to expire in September.
We would like to have confidence in Mr. Netanyahu’s declaration that he is “committed to that peace” with Palestinians and President Obama’s assertion that the Israeli leader is “willing to take risks for peace.” Mr. Netanyahu didn’t offer any specifics about what he will do to help move peace negotiations forward.
Unlike Mr. Obama, the Israeli prime minister did not publicly mention a two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu committed to that goal in June 2009 — but only under pressure from Washington. Each time he neglects to repeat it, he feeds doubts about his government’s sincerity.
President Obama has made a serious effort when it comes to Israel’s main security concern, Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Obama rightly recognizes the threat to Israel and this country. He and his aides pushed the United Nations Security Council to pass a fourth round of sanctions and have worked with the Europeans and others, pressing them to adopt even tougher punishments on Iran. More pressure is needed, but the president’s commitment appears solid.
Mr. Obama is going to have to keep working hard to persuade Mr. Netanyahu that a peace deal with the Palestinians is also essential for Israel’s long-term security, the health of its democracy and its international standing — and not just something he has to try to mollify Washington.
Mr. Netanyahu promised after Tuesday’s meeting to take unspecified “concrete” steps in the coming weeks to move the peace process along in a “robust way.” He could start by committing to extend the moratorium on settlement construction past the Sept. 26 deadline and by outlining his plan for reaching a two-state solution.
The United States has an unshakeable bond with Israel. Still Israelis must worry about the battering their country’s reputation has taken — and the bolstering Hamas’s extremist government has gotten — since Israeli commandos killed nine activists on an aid ship trying to break the Gaza blockade.
Mr. Netanyahu took an important step when his government lifted restrictions on most imports into Gaza, except military-related items. It must go further and allow exports from the territory, as well as greater freedom of movement for people living there.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and his government also must do their part, doing more to discourage incitement against Israel — and seriously preparing to make the hard choices that peace will inevitably require.
We know that it will not be easy, but Mr. Abbas needs to drop his insistence that he will begin direct talks only after Israel agrees to a complete freeze on settlement construction.
That is what the White House had promised him originally — and it would have been better for all. But more stalemate only feeds extremism. The only way to test Mr. Netanyahu is to get back to the table.
Arab states must do a lot more to support the Palestinians — with aid and political support for the tough compromises ahead. They also need to demonstrate to Israel their willingness to improve relations as negotiations move forward.
At their press conference, Mr. Netanyahu invited the American president to visit Israel, and Mr. Obama said: “I’m ready.” He should go and explain to Israelis directly why it is in the clear interest of both Israel and the United States to move ahead with a peace deal