The New York Times (Editorial)
November 12, 2010 - 1:00am

Early in his most recent tenure, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spent a lot of time trying to persuade President Obama and others that he was serious about making peace with the Palestinians. Only a hard-liner, like him, could pull it off. If only.

With the peace process crumbling, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Mr. Netanyahu for seven hours on Thursday. She went in insisting that she still believes that Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, are “very committed to a two-state solution.” There was no sign of a breakthrough.

If Mr. Netanyahu is willing to make the hard choices necessary for peace, it’s not evident these days. What is evident is that he has decided that mugging for his hard-line coalition is more important than working with President Obama to craft a peace deal — and counting on his newly empowered Republican allies on Capitol Hill to back him up, no matter what he does.

Since last week’s American elections, Mr. Netanyahu’s government has published plans for 1,000 new housing units in a contested part of Jerusalem. That same day, on a trip to the United States, Mr. Netanyahu implicitly faulted Mr. Obama for not threatening to attack Iran. “If the international community, led by the United States, hopes to stop Iran’s nuclear program without resorting to military action, it will have to convince Iran that it is prepared to take such action,” he told the Jewish Federations of North America.

President Obama hasn’t taken anything off the table, while working hard to persuade countries around the world to impose increasingly tough sanctions on Iran. We don’t know if sanctions will ever be enough to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but we know Tehran is feeling the heat. We also know knee-jerk threats about force would rally international sympathy to Iran and strengthen the mullahs’ hands at home.

What Mr. Netanyahu does not seem to realize is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is not a favor to President Obama. It is vital to Israel’s long-term security. If he squanders this moment, the only ones who can celebrate are the extremists.

Both Palestinians and Israelis need to do more to salvage the negotiations. Mr. Netanyahu has refused President Obama’s request to extend a moratorium on construction in the Jewish settlements for a modest 60 days. Mr. Abbas has refused to meet until the building stops. Still, we think the burden is on Mr. Netanyahu to get things moving again. Resuming the moratorium will in no way harm Israel’s security or national interest.

The Obama administration deserves credit for not throwing up its hands. In her marathon session with Mr. Netanyahu, Mrs. Clinton plugged away on a package of generous (overly so, to our minds) incentives and security guarantees that might induce him to revive the moratorium and get back to the bargaining table. She also met with Egypt’s foreign minister to rally more Arab support for the peace process and announced $150 million in additional aid to help the Palestinian Authority build its capability to govern.

Mr. Netanyahu is to meet with certain members of his cabinet on Saturday and then the full cabinet on Sunday, reportedly to discuss his trip. It’s time for him to stop playing games, reinstate the moratorium, get back to negotiations and engage seriously in a peace deal.


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