Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Failure to Advance Middle East Peace a Setback for Obama

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Failure to Advance Middle East Peace a Setback for Obama

Article excerpt

Unbowed by the failure to reach an accord to restart Mideast peace talks, President Obama told Israeli and Palestinian leaders he met Tuesday that he would keep up his administration's diplomatic efforts until negotiations are relaunched.

He then directed top foreign policy aides, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and special Mideast envoy George Mitchell, to continue the intense contacts with Israeli and Palestinian officials the US has pursued since Obama took office.

Mr. Mitchell said he would meet with his counterparts from both parties again Thursday, while Secretary Clinton is to report back to the president by mid-October on where diplomatic efforts stand.

"It is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved," Mr. Obama said after a 40-minute trilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We cannot continue the same pattern of taking a few tentative steps forward and then stepping back," he added, noting that US national security interests are as much at stake as Israeli and Palestinian aspirations.

Obama also met separately with each leader before the trilateral meeting, which was not only the first meeting between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, but also the first meeting between any Israeli and Palestinian leader in a year.

Failure to reach an accord to restart peace talks was nevertheless a disappointing setback for Obama, who had hoped to use the international stage afforded by this week's United Nations General Assembly meeting to announce a breakthrough.

Some Mideast analysts say Obama is simply learning the lesson of past US presidents - that no outside power, including the United States, can force progress in resolving the conflict if the parties are not "ripe" for it.

But others say that perspective has allowed conditions to deteriorate and made achieving peace only more difficult, insisting that Obama is right to keep up American pressure.

"It's a very good thing that Obama is not giving up, but I think he is learning that this won't happen quickly and will probably take a long time," says Doron Ben-Atar, a specialist in Mideast affairs at Fordham University in New York. …

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