Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Washington disappointed: Netanyahu didn't present concrete steps

The White House expressed disappointment in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to Washington, with officials saying that they had hoped that the prime minister would present a concrete plan to scale back Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday:

Mr. Netanyahu didn't offer any new commitment about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- which the Palestinians have demanded be fully stopped as a precondition for peace talks -- or list any specific terms for holding new negotiations.

"We had an idea that he might bring something out to push the process forward," one U.S. official said. "But he's kept it in his pocket." The official said the U.S. side had hoped Mr. Netanyahu would unveil a more detailed proposal for restraining the settlements.

The Israeli leader also appeared to resist U.S. pressure to give stronger support for discussions on an independent Palestinian state -- the so-called "two-state solution." He said he was committed to two states living side by side, but suggested that key Palestinian demands for negotiations over East Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees wouldn't be on the table.

U.S. officials said the White House had held off until late Sunday firming up Mr. Netanyahu's meeting with Mr. Obama, in an effort to pressure the Israeli leader to take a more conciliatory line.U.S. officials working on Mideast policy were underwhelmed by the speech, saying it didn't add anything new.

These officials also said they didn't expect anything significant to come from the Israeli leader's meeting with Mr. Obama, which they described as "low-key" and only happening because Mr. Netanyahu was already in town.

"We're going to continue what we're doing: which is to try and get negotiations going," said a senior U.S. official briefed on Mr. Netanyahu's visit. "I'm sure the president will make this clear to the prime minister tonight."