Donald Macintyre: A battle of wills lies ahead. For now, we have a beginning

Share
Related Topics

Way back during the US Democratic primaries Barack Obama told a Jewish audience in Ohio that being pro-Israel did not mean signing up to every tenet of the country's biggest right-wing party, Likud. Since then, of course, the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has become Prime Minister, and there was always bound to be heightened interest in the first meeting of the two men as heads of their respective governments.

It was expected that they would would emerge with smiles for the cameras. What was not expected was that the meeting would take more than three hours. It is a safe bet that whatever else, they were not merely exchanging pleasantries.

Western diplomats are convinced that there are at least two big differences between this administration and the previous one on the Middle East. The first is the collective knowledge of the Israel-Palestinian question in and around the White House. Secondly, it has been clear since President Obama took office that he is anxious to forge a better relationship with the Arab world than the invasion of Iraq – among other things – allowed George Bush to do.

There is no disguising the potential differences between the two men. They include the issue of Iran and its linkage to the Israeli-Palestinian question. Mr Netanyahu thinks US plans for dialogue with Tehran may fatally delay the application of the necessary pressure to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons. President Obama worries that Israel could launch a unilateral strike on Iran, which is why he dispatched the CIA chief Leon Panetta last month to warn Mr Netanyahu against "surprising" the US by doing just that.

Mr Netanyahu has been sceptical about a "grand bargain" in which he moves towards a deal with the Palestinians in return for an alliance including Arab countries against Iran's perceived ambitions to be a nuclear military power. But the President went a long way to endorsing that scenario last night, pointing out that peace with the Palestinians would reduce the threat posed to Israel by Iranian-backed Hizbollah and Hamas. Mr Netanyahu, who had up to last night indicated that Iran must come first, went no further than conceding the two could go together.

That said, there is a very long way to go. Mr Netanyahu's insistence, repeated last night, that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, will be seen by many in Washington as a delaying tactic. Just how serious the US President is about achieving the Israel-Palestinian peace which has eluded his predecessors for 40 years may become more apparent in Cairo on 4 June. Either way, there is already what Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Mr Netanyahu, called an "an unavoidable landmine" relating to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The US wants a complete freeze: while promising no "new" settlements, Israel sees nothing wrong with continued building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Last night, Mr Netanyahu again did not use the words "Palestinian state", saying, less than convincingly, that if negotiations were substantive the "terminology" would take care of itself. Yesterday was the beginning of a process, perhaps as much on Iran as on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; assuming the President is as determined as he seems, a battle of wills lies ahead.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform