Virtually unnoticed, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu have quietly set the stage to move forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, mend their tense personal relations and build a working relationship that takes the legitimate interests of their two countries into account.
In a series of low-key moves, both men have worked to ensure that their meeting today at the White House demonstrates improved relations since Netanyahu last visited Washington in March. Differences then over Israeli settlement policy in Jerusalem produced one of the tensest moments in U.S.-Israeli relations in recent history. Netanyahu canceled subsequent talks scheduled for June 1 because of the international storm sparked by the Gaza flotilla assault.
To push peace talks with the Palestinians forward, Obama needs Netanyahu to agree to an extension of Israel's declared 10-month freeze of settlement activity in the West Bank as well as of the undeclared halt in East Jerusalem. In recognition of the Israeli concession, Obama recently agreed to fund deployment of anti-rocket systems in Israeli border towns to the tune of $200 million. But a recent campaign to accelerate settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights by Nefesh B'Nefesh, an Israeli government-funded organization that helps new immigrants to settle in Israel, demonstrates how tenuous the freeze is.