WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the U.S. Congress due in late May has stirred expectations that he will put forth a plan that will revive the stalled peace process.
But pressure from Europe and the sense that the United States has taken a time-out from the peace process is making some top figures in Washington call for a stepping-up of American involvement - perhaps even a peace plan submitted by President Barack Obama himself.
Citing a senior administration source, The New York Times has reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president are inclined to put forth an American initiative.
On the other hand, Obama's senior adviser on the Middle East, Dennis Ross, is opposed to such a move, fearing that the situation in the region makes it impossible to promote a viable solution. Ross worries that neither side is ready for a new peace plan and believes that a rejection of an Obama plan would weaken the president.
An American plan would be expected to call on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders in return for security guarantees, while the Palestinians would have to relinquish their demand for a right of return. Jerusalem would be the capital of both states, with the Palestinians getting East Jerusalem.
The Obama administration began its retreat from pressuring Israel last November, around the time of the mid-term elections. In the vote, the Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives, which assures Netanyahu a warm welcome ahead of the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.
Even though some congressmen are proposing a cut in foreign aid, including aid to Israel, Netanyahu's appearance in Congress is expected to be an exercise in converting the converted.
But this is not the case at the United Nations. Clinton has told Charlie Rose on PBS that Israel and the Palestinians must return to direct negotiations, despite the situation in the region.
She was interviewed on the show with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and said the president has said he will continue pushing both sides. Clinton reiterated that everyone realizes that negotiations are the only way.
Clinton called for an immediate return to negotiations and said this is in the best interest of Israel and the Palestinians. She called for hard work on deciding on borders, determining security conditions, and dealing with all the relevant issues.
Clinton said the United States does not support the unilateral Palestinian efforts at the United Nations for gaining recognition of statehood; she said this can only be achieved through negotiations.
Time Magazine, which included Netanyahu on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world, discussed briefly the challenges facing him.
Meanwhile, at least one obstacle is off the list. Veteran journalist Helen Thomas, who called on Jews to leave Palestine and go back to the places they came from, will not address a counter-AIPAC conference. Criticism of her planned appearance led her to withdraw her participation, saying she wanted the discussion to focus on U.S. foreign policy, not her.
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