A make or break week for the peace process

What happens in the week to come will do much to determine whether the recent cooling between Israel and the United States will have a more permanent bearing on the peace process.

The last two weeks have shown how deceitful the government of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be. What happens in the week to come, however, will do much to determine whether the recent cooling between Israel and the United States will have a more permanent bearing on the peace process. As Mr Netanyahu visits Washington this week to address the annual conference of AIPAC, the powerful American pro-Israel lobby, he has a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the US administration; he will also have the chance to take his intransigence right to the Oval Office. The US president Barack Obama, who delayed a trip to Indonesia for two more days of horse trading with the US Congress for votes for his health care proposal, has now made time on Tuesday to meet Mr Netanyahu. The visit comes at the most challenging time for US-Israeli relations in at least a generation.
The US vice president Joe Biden was welcomed to Israel earlier this month with the announcement that it would build 1,600 additional units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, projects the US administration has called "illegitimate". Mr Obama's top adviser David Axelrod called the announcement "an affront". The secretary of state Hillary Clinton berated Mr Netanyahu on a telephone call that Mr Obama refused himself to take. While Mr Obama is known for keeping his cool, the question this week will be whether he can sustain his ire long enough to find voice for it as Mr Netanyahu arrives in Washington.
Mr Obama is not the only one who has grown impatient. To a number of American officials, including senior generals at the Pentagon, Mr Netanyahu has become the central obstacle to a two-state solution, which they believe is of paramount strategic and moral importance to the US. Mr Obama also received strong support last week from the Quartet, the contact group formed by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the US, who demanded that Israel "freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem". The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, visiting Ramallah yesterday, drew more attention to the conflict, declaring that all Israeli settlement activity "must be stopped". Mr Ban visits Gaza today.
Strident supporters of Israel in the US, among them Gov Sarah Palin and leaders of the Republican party, have delivered a volley of criticism against the US president for the recent US confrontation with Mr Netanyahu. But public opinion in the US appears to be in Mr Obama's favour. According to a Rasmussen poll, 49 per cent of Americans believe that Israel should be required to stop building settlements while only 22 per cent disagree.
Last spring in Cairo, Mr Obama told the Muslim world that "it was time for settlements to stop". As yet, Mr Obama has been unable to make this happen; in order to get the peace process going, he must. He has international support and that of a near majority of the American public. This week provides Mr Obama another chance to show that his commitment to peace is not just rhetorical and that he can show others that compromise is the only way for the interests and security of all to be protected.