RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Israel's prime minister is in Washington today to meet with President Obama. It's a meeting that will be watched closely. President Obama wants Israel to make a forceful push for peace with the Palestinians. The hawkish Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to make Iran the focus of the conversation. And as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, that has some Israeli analysts worried that the two administrations are on a collision course.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At a recent news conference with the foreign press in Jerusalem, Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, said that the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for a new approach to the Middle East peace process.
Mr. DANNY AYALON (Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel): For the last 16 years, we have been dealing with a defunct peace process, which yielded no results. So we didn't want just to take the baton from the previous government and run into the same direction to nowhere, actually, just by inertia.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Netanyahu may not want to run the same way as past governments here but to some observers, it seems that he's running in the opposition direction of the Obama administration. So far, Netanyahu has resisted subscribing to the so-called two-state solution, where an independent Palestinian state is established alongside Israel.
Mr. DORE GOLD (Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N.): Most Israeli governments who have said they support a Palestinian state first tell you that they're for a Palestinian state and then later, in the negotiations, they subtract certain powers that they think Israel must retain in order to remain secure and defensible.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dore Gold is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and a close confidant of the prime minister. He says Israel can never allow a Palestinian state that has control over its airspace and the ability to make military treaties with foreign countries.
Mr. GOLD: Netanyahu, I believe, is trying to be not disingenuous. He doesn't want to say state, implying all the powers that are implicit in sovereignty and statehood, and then afterwards you get to the negotiations and then he subtracts those powers.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the Obama administration has come out firmly behind the formation of an independent Palestinian state.
The second area where the U.S. and Israel are at odds is Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Washington wants a freeze on settlement growth, but Israel says that's not feasible. Dore Gold.
Mr. GOLD: On the Israeli side, all you're talking about is the natural growth. You can't forbid Israelis — 300,000 of them — to have children. And if children want to have a house next to their parents, that is not a massive expansion of settlements that exploits territory and affects the final outcome of negotiations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The plan that Netanyahu will be presenting Mr. Obama, according to aides, will leave the big issues of peace talks on the back burner. Instead, the Israelis want to focus on helping the West Bank economy and bolstering Palestinian security services.
The new Israeli government believes with two rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank, that the time is not right for full-scale negotiations.
Washington, though, has said it wants peace talks to restart as soon as possible. It remains to be seen how far and how fast President Obama can push the Israelis.
Not very, says analyst Uri Dromi. Even if he wants to make concessions, Netanyahu, he says, is constrained by internal Israeli politics. Some of his coalition partners are from the extreme right.
Mr. URI DROMI (Analyst): Definitely, he has a difficult coalition and he's outflanked from the right. So yes, he has some partners who will make it difficult for him to make any compromises.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the West Bank capital, Ramallah, the mood is bleak. Palestinian officials say that Netanyahu has no interest in moving the peace process forward. But Mohammed al-Mafri, a security adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, warns time is of the essence.
Mr. MOHAMMED AL-MAFRI (Security Adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas): (Through translator) In Palestine, the influence of radical fundamentalist religious parties is on the increase. In Israel, the influence of extreme religious groups is also on the increase. So, we're reaching a situation where bloodshed is inevitable. The picture right now is indeed dark.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palestinian lawmaker Moheb Awad agrees, saying what happens next is in America's hands.
Mr. MOHEB AWAD (Lawmaker): (Through translator) If the United States can't pressure the Israelis to achieve peace with the Palestinians, then who can?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says we see this American administration as the most forceful agent in moving the peace process forward.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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