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A year after Barack Obama's election as president of the United States, it has become clear that with regard to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the change he promised boils down to high-flown rhetoric and a confused policy. Instead of restarting negotiations on a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and promoting the two-state solution with all his might, the world's greatest power is treading water in the swamp of the settlements.

Ever since the current Israeli government took office, the highest levels of the U.S. administration have been demanding that it completely halt construction in the settlements, as required by the road map peace plan. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to implement a total freeze. Instead, he proposed that construction continue in East Jerusalem, in the large settlement blocs, on public buildings in isolated settlements and on thousands of housing units on which work is already in progress.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made a freeze in settlement construction a precondition for resuming negotiations. In so doing, he relied on the American stance. But America's messages have been mixed. On May 19, the day after Obama's White House meeting with Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that the president insisted on a complete halt to building in the settlements, including "additions, natural growth, any kind of settlement activity." But last weekend, that same Clinton praised Netanyahu during her visit to Jerusalem for his "unprecedented" offer to restrict construction - and rejected Abbas' demand that a total settlement freeze precede negotiations. It's no wonder these contradictory positions have infuriated the Palestinians and the Arab world, forcing Clinton to try to explain herself.

The crisis of trust between Netanyahu and Abbas, and the huge gap between their positions, necessitates a determined and consistent American stance whose goal is to restart the negotiations and conclude them, instead of wasting time and prestige in endless discussions over empty formulas for limiting settlement construction. It is not enough to urge the prime minister to bolster Abbas in order to keep the West Bank from falling into the hands of Hamas. The time has come for Obama to summon both sides for serious, continuous negotiations, accompanied by a timetable for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders. There could be no clearer expression of the United States' commitment to Israel's security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state.