Clinton has rarely been involved directly in Middle East peace talks in the first Obama term. Her two-day visit to the region is a potentially risky high-
water mark for direct U.S. engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian issue by an administration that has kept the Middle East’s core conflict at arm’s length.
Since his reelection, Obama has said he hopes to play a role in Middle East peacemaking but has not proposed any new plan. His relations have been strained with both Netanyahu and Abbas, who leads the moderate Palestinian wing.
Obama may have more leverage with Netanyahu than he did when the two got off to a rocky start four years ago and American backers of Israel wondered aloud whether Obama was sufficiently committed to their cause.
The president has given solid backing for the Israeli leader’s security demands, including a pledge to attack Iran if necessary to stop that country from gaining a nuclear weapon. Obama also backed Israel when Abbas attempted to gain U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state.
The Obama administration refused to spell out Clinton’s goals beyond helping to secure an end to violence. But U.S. officials said they hope a resolution of the current conflict could lay the groundwork for talks on a comprehensive peace deal.
Israel has resisted calls for a cease-fire that its leaders fear Hamas militants would quickly break. Because Israel has not publicly backed any plan, the United States would say only that it seeks a “durable solution.”
“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem through diplomatic means, we prefer that,” Netanyahu said in welcoming Clinton. “But if not, I am sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people. This is something that I don’t have to explain to Americans. I know that President Obama, you and the American people understand that perfectly well.”
Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.
Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.