March 3, 2009 - 1:00am

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's debut trip to the Middle East will be depicted - as usual - as a "familiarization tour," aimed at meeting with regional leaders and listening to their ideas. However, there should be no mistake about Clinton's message: President Barack Obama's administration expects the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to continue, with the aim of advancing a two-state solution and establishing an "independent and viable" Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Under different circumstances, there would be nothing new to Clinton's positions, which continue the previous administration's policy. In accepting the road map and the Annapolis process, the governments of former prime minister Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also adopted the two-state solution. This is the internationally-accepted format for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

However, the outcome of Israel's election undermines the international consensus. The prime minister-designate, Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu, is opposed to a Palestinian state, fearing that sovereign authority over matters like control of border crossings and air space would enable it to endanger Israel. Netanyahu is offering the Palestinians an "independent administration" in the West Bank, with Israel controlling them from beyond and surrounding their cities with Jewish settlements slated for expansion and a "security zone." There is no Palestinian partner who is going to agree to such a deal, even if Netanyahu tries to tempt him with the fruit of his "economic peace."
Netanyahu's approach places Israel in a position of refusal, opposed to the agreed-upon grounds for diplomatic process, and renouncing the agreements made by previous governments. The Obama administration is going to demand of Netanyahu that he continue the process his predecessors have led, just as it is demanding of Hamas that it adopt the Quartet's conditions and recognize Israel.

Israeli intransigence will have a double price: It will create unnecessary and damaging conflict with the United States and, worse than that, it will strengthen those voices calling for abandoning the two-state solution and granting the Palestinians full rights in a bi-national state.

Netanyahu, who wanted to lead Israel from the center, is barricading himself into the extreme right of the political spectrum, alongside members of his faction and his political partners from Yisrael Beiteinu, the National Union and Habayit Hayehudi, who are opposed to any compromise or agreement. His attempt to turn back the diplomatic process is fated to fail, and it will only embroil Israel with the Obama administration at a time when it needs America's crucial support for the struggle against the Iranian nuclear bomb.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017