President Barack Obama welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on Monday, at a moment when the White House and the Israeli leadership are undeniably at odds over the path to Middle East peace. While the Obama Administration remains steadfastly committed to Israel's security, its ideas on how to achieve that security differ markedly from those of the hawkish Netanyahu government. As Obama moves to revive the stalled Middle East peace process, Monday's meeting has been widely predicted to be a tense affair, but that may be overstating the drama. Netanyahu, like any Israeli Prime Minister, has an overwhelming incentive to get along with Israel's single most important ally; Obama, for his part, needs to fashion a peace process that produces results, for which he requires Netanyahu's cooperation. So Monday's encounter won't be a showdown as much as the opening exchange of a difficult conversation that could continue for months.
Herewith, a short guide to the issues that divide Obama and Netanyahu:
A Two-State Solution?
The idea of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel on the territory it occupied in 1967 is the overwhelming international consensus, accepted even according to opinion polls by a majority of Israelis. The Obama Administration is not content to simply articulate that vision, as President George W. Bush did; instead, it seeks to move briskly toward realizing such a solution before the evolving facts on the ground make it untenable. Netanyahu, however, has refused to endorse the principle of Palestinian statehood, insisting that sovereign independence for the Palestinians would endanger Israel's security. The Palestinians, Netanyahu has argued until now, will have to settle for a more limited form of self-government within borders still effectively controlled by Israel. Despite some speculation that he might make a rhetorical concession on the statehood issue on Monday, a top aide told the Israeli media Netanyahu would not do so at least, not yet. (See pictures of Israel's recent war in Gaza.)
The Administration has made clear that it expects Israel to work toward a two-state solution. Netanyahu is expected to agree to talk to the Palestinians, to ease their circumstances and build their economy. But he maintains that trying to reach a final-status agreement right now is misguided and counterproductive, arguing that the priority is to build Palestinian administrative, security and economic capacity and to tackle Iran, which he sees as a spoiler to any peace effort. (See pictures of Israel at 60.)
Next: What Gets Priority?