Substantive dialogue between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations about Palestinian issues will begin in earnest next week, when George Mitchell returns to the region. A few weeks later, Netanyahu apparently will meet with Obama in the White House at the beginning of May, during his visit to speak at the AIPAC Policy Conference.
Some are anticipating, even looking forward to, an escalation of tensions between the new Israeli Prime Minister and the President. IPF Policy Director M.J. Rosenberg believes "It is President Barack Obama who holds 51 cards in the deck....Netanyahu [will] start out hobbled." Ha'aretz predicts tension over four issues: "The Obama administration is readying for a possible confrontation with...Netanyahu...[over] accepting the principle of a Palestinian state; freezing settlement activity; evacuating illegal outposts; and providing economic and security assistance to the Palestinian Authority." Ron Kampeas in JTA predicts tension over continuing the final status negotiations that Olmert agreed to undertake at Annapolis in November 2007, in order to leapfrog the sequencing requirement in the Roadmap and come up with final status solutions as a means of enticing Palestinians to reject militancy. Kampeas quotes incoming Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that, "I will never agree to our waiving all the clauses" of the Roadmap "and going directly to the last clause, negotiations on a permanent settlement."
I'm skeptical that profound tensions will materialize. Here are my predictions: (1) Netanyahu will find a formula to continue dialogue with Abu Mazen on how to achieve Palestinian statehood without impairing Israeli security, and these negotiations will include the principles that should guide a prospective final status agreement. The Netanyahu formula will meet the requirements of the Obama Administration. (2) Netanyahu will endorse the principles of a freeze on natural growth of settlements that Sharon's top aide, Dov Weissglas, negotiated with Condoleeza Rice and Elliot Abrams in 2003 and 2004. These principles will meet most though not all of the requirements of the Obama team. Some disagreement on settlements will continue, but not at the level of intensity that the enthusiasts of pressure on Israel hope to see. (3) Obama will remain committed to the key element of policy on Hamas: that the United States will not negotiate with or provide aid to Hamas until it renounces terror, accepts the existence of Israel, and commits to past signed agreements.
I expect to see differences between the two sides from time to time, as has always been the case, but I predict that overall, close strategic and diplomatic cooperation will continue.