Netanyahu and Obama in Israel last year
Netanyahu and Obama in Israel last yearIsrael News Photo: Flash 90

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be his friend in return for a freeze on building for Jews in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, according to Politco.com editor Ben Smith.

The website is a multi-million dollar Washington-based operation that focuses on the White House and Congress. The relationship between the two leaders has been termed as chilly even before they met in Washington earlier this year. 

"Netanyahu’s at a pivotal moment,” a senior U.S. official told Smith. “Depending on what he decides, he could wind up with a very strong relationship with President Obama and potentially become a historic figure in Israel." Ron Dermer, spokesman for the Prime Minister, declined to comment on the report.

President Obama and Israel have sharply differed over whether the issue of building for Jews is a significant issue for an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. However, the Obama’s administration’s insistence on backing the PA demand for a building freeze has made it a de facto condition for the resumption of talks, which the U.S. has been trying to engineer.

Suffering a severe drop in support on his health reform plan, the war in Afghanistan and the issue of torture of prisoners, President Obama is anxious for a breakthrough in the stalled Middle East peace process.

Although there apparently will not be any formal invitation, a trilateral meeting is being arranged between President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas when they attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

"President Obama will chair it, and I think that at least there is a chance that they will decide they are going to reopen negotiations,” President Shimon Peres told Fox News Monday.

Smith wrote that the U.S. may agree to allow Israel to complete construction that already is underway but will refuse to agree to a thaw in the building freeze if negotiations sputter. President Obama also is demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu agree to end demolitions of illegally-built houses in eastern Jerusalem, Smith said.

“The Israelis have asked for us to let them finish existing construction,” a U.S. official told Smith. “We’ve made clear that we need some commitments on evictions and demolitions in Jerusalem.”

Even if talks resume, they only will be the resumption of a long and drawn-out process, said Aaron David Miller, a former American peace negotiator and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. “This is going to be like a thousand days of root canals, every day, because it’s going to be excruciatingly painful to move this forward,” he stated.