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

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

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ukip leader Nigel Farage  

Election 2015: Ukip is a non-sectarian, non-racist party with a forward-thinking plan for Britain

Nigel Farage
Nicola Sturgeon with voters today in Inverness  

Election 2015: It's not about independence or another referendum — but having our voices heard

Nicola Sturgeon
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power