Before Obama took office, then Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas met scores of times. How substantive the discussions were, it's hard for us to know; but one thing is clear, Israel's settlement policy wasn't viewed as an obstacle to talking. Only after Obama made a very public show of insisting that all settlement activity cease (including in Jerusalem) did the Palestinian President decide to stop meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister until a settlement halt occurred. The talks stopped because the Obama Administration made a strategic error and after their little tet a tet at the General Assembly, it is unclear when or if negotiations will start again. As Israel hater Helen Cobban has said herself, Obama wasted seven precious months on his settlement freeze idea. What did Obama get for the pressure he put on Israel? Nothing. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will continue to build in Jerusalem and he has made clear that a temporary settlement freeze, if one is ever one adopted, won't include thousands of apartments and other structures already under construction. It's pretty clear that Obama blinked and that his credibility has been badly hurt in a region highly sensitive to any show of weakness. Netanyahu has made clear that he was willing to meet with Abbas alone or with Obama anytime without preconditions. Abbas is the one who claimed that without a total settlement freeze, no meeting could take place. Abbas must be furious with Obama for hanging him out to dry. Now that he's agreed to meet with Netanyahu with either no settlement freeze in place, or at best only an anemic one, Abbas looks weak as well. The huge winner in all of this is Netanyahu who has given next to nothing. Only a few short months ago, Administration advisors were talking about the day that Netanyahu would fall because Israelis wouldn't tolerate a Prime Minister who couldn't get along with the American President. What a difference a few short months can make. Obama better smarten up if he really has ambitions to make progress in the Middle East. The Israelis and Palestinians have alot more in common with each other than either party has with him. Israelis and Palestinians understand the mentality of the souk; Obama never learned much about that in Harvard or Hyde Park. And lets face it, George Mitchell hasn't accomplished very much and my guess is Abbas acquiesced to the meeting to spare Obama the embarrassment of being turned down in his request for a trilateral. Anyone who thinks this is a victory for Obama isn't paying attention. The reality is that it's a humiliating failure. But at least Netanyahu is smiling.
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from the article: Abbas wants a trilateral meeting between aides before direct talks