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      Obama’s Trip to Israel a Matter of Timing as Talks Failure Looms

      Obama will visit Israel but it is a “matter of timing,” an aide says. Report: Tension over “peace talk” failure causes friction in his government.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 10/10/2010, 1:51 PM / Last Update: 10/10/2010, 2:14 PM

      U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Israel, and it is only a “matter of timing," according to Politico website’s Ben Smith, who quoted White House advisor David Axelrod.

      "The timing is important in terms of, how we can maximize that visit in a way that’s most constructive?" Axelrod was quoted as saying in response to a question posed to the president by Elie Wiesel.

      A visit may be Obama’s “ace up his sleeve” as his Middle East peace initiative has ground to a halt and is causing tension within President Obama’s administration, according to Laura Rozen of Politico.

      Recent reports indicated that President Obama has performed an end-run around the State Department and U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, whose relations with the Netanyahu government are far from warm. Instead, he has put his trust in Dennis Ross, a veteran negotiator who was involved in the failed Oslo talks and who enjoys a better rapport with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

      It was Ross (pictured) who presented Israel with an unwritten proposal that Prime Minister Netanyahu extend the freezing on building new homes for Jews for another 60 days in return for guarantees: the Palestinian Authority and Israel would have to decide on final borders for a new PA state, the United States would not back a United Nations resolution on talks with the PA for one year Israel, and the Obama government would recognize Israel's security needs in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere..

      Regardless of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction—which is not known—the president’s deploying Ross undermines Mitchell’s position, Rozen wrote. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has enjoyed general approval by Mitchell for the PA's demands, in line with long-time State Department policies against a Jewish presence in all of the land restored to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.  

      Rozen reported that one sign of the friction in Washington is the expected departure of Mitchell’s top aide, Mara Rudman, who reportedly has differed with Ross.

      “The question asked by the [Middle East] parties is, ‘Who is actually formulating the policy? Who is the conceptualizer here?’” former deputy Middle East Quartet envoy Robert Danin wondered.

      He told the Council on Foreign Relations last week, “The best I can answer is, it is President Obama. I don’t think anyone inside State or the National Security Council is actually the conceptualizer other than the president himself. He seems to be the one who is driving" the policy.

      The “peace talks” ball may become a time bomb for President Obama. The Arab League threw the issue back into his lap Saturday, declaring that it would give him one month to pressure Israel to extend the 10-month building freeze that expired September 26.

      Recent polls have dashed any hopes by the Obama administration that the Opposition in Israel can force Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a new coalition with Kadima, whose leader Tzipi Livni stated last week that she favors renewing the freeze in order to renew direct talks with Abbas.

      Prime Minister Netanyahu and other coalition leaders have pointed out the freeze originally was intended to have the same result but that Abbas balked until the building moratorium nearly expired.