The “two States” and the halting of settlements in the West Bank are the two issues on which the US government and Israel to not agree. Ten days ago, on May 18th, Obama met with Benjamin Netanyahu, but no agreement was reached on these two elements. Recently Hillary Clinton firmly repeated the urgent need to stop settlement expansion in the West Bank, including their “natural growth”, but a government spokesman, Mark Regev, replied that the “natural growth” of the settlements will go ahead.
For the Palestinian Authority the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank is taking increasing space (including physical space) from the establishment of a Palestinian State. According to the Israeli organisation Peace Now there are 21 colonies recognised by Israel in the occupied West Bank; what’s more there are a further 102 “outposts” that are not recognised by Tel Aviv, but are awaiting official approval. Since 2001, the population of these settlements has grown at a pace of 5-6% a year.
Speaking to journalists at a press conference, Obama claimed he was “a strong supporter of the two State solution”, but avoided all reference to a timeline for its realisation, calling any agenda “abstract”. Answering a question on a US response to the possibility Israel does not stick to these proposals, Obama said “it’s better to think positive”.
For his part, Abbas presented the US President with documents outlining the urgency in re-starting the peace process. These documents are based on the so-called 2003 road map (promoted by the US, European Union, Russia and the UN) as well as the Arab League-Saudi Arabian peace plan of 2002. This plan proposes a normalisation of relations between Arab nations and Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the creation of a Palestinian State.
Next week Obama will be in the middle east (Saudi Arabia and Egypt). His special envoy, George Mitchel will also be in the region on June 7th.