Obama, Israelis divided on West Bank settlements

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and top Israeli officials staked out opposing positions over the issue of Jewish settlements on Thursday, propelling the dispute between two close allies into full public view.

Speaking after a White House meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama reiterated that he has been "very clear about the need to stop building settlements, to stop building outposts" in the West Bank.

Only hours earlier, the Israeli government said it would continue to allow some growth in the settler communities.

Since Obama met May 18 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, the dispute has grown.

Obama believes an Israeli settlement freeze would elicit concessions from moderate Arab states, reinvigorating peace negotiations. But, in staff-level talks that continue almost daily, the Israelis have balked.

In his meeting with Abbas, Obama re-emphasized his conviction on the settlements and on the need for a Palestinian state. The president also repeated his view — which Israelis dispute — that progress on Palestinian-Israeli peace can ease other problems of the Middle East.

Aaron Miller, a former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator, said the Obama administration's policy represents "potentially a radical break" with past U.S. policies on settlements.

"They seem to have decided there's not going to be any nickel and diming," Miller said.

Israeli analysts and commentators, too, have been struck by the degree of public disagreement between the allies since Netanyahu's White House meeting.

"There can be no doubt that the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama significantly rattled the prime minister," Sima Kadmon wrote Thursday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot.

Obama, Israelis divided on West Bank settlements 05/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 12:02am]

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