Obama still has leverage over Israel

Has Barack Obama made a hash of his Middle East peace diplomacy? That seems to be the verdict of international commentators and – more to the point – of Palestinian leaders in despair at ever getting their own state and an Israeli government exulting that it made the US president blink first.

Yet, it is worth stepping outside the hothouse for a minute to examine whether it is that simple: whether Mr Obama will be content to see his ambitious strategy of reconciliation with the Arab and Muslim worlds held hostage by the obdurate obstruction of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In his rapturously received speech at Cairo University in June, President Obama started a new conversation in and about the Middle East. Publicly restating what he had just said privately in Washington to Mr Netanyahu, whose rightwing coalition refuses to rein in colonisation of Palestinian land or push a two-state solution, Mr Obama made the ultra-parsed statement that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”. When he told Israel that “part of being a good friend is being honest”, the country’s political elites got an inkling that decades of double-talk on the conflict with the Palestinians were over. When he added that “just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s”, any remaining doubts were surely dissipated. Weren’t they?

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