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U.S. Presses New Israeli Government To Back 'Two-State Solution'

Israeli President Shimon Peres (right) arrived ahead of the first visit by new Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Israeli President Shimon Perez has met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington as a prelude to a visit in on May 18 from the Jewish state's new, hard-line prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

After meeting with Obama, Peres said his country should support U.S. efforts to address Iran diplomatically.

Although as president, Peres's status is largely ceremonial, he maintains influence in his country as a former prime minister. And he urged Israelis to support Obama's efforts to engage Iran.

"If it works," Peres said, "it can be the best thing."

For Netanyahu, however, Iran must be confronted about its nuclear program, which he calls Israel's top priority. In the meantime, he announced what he called a "triple-track" peace process that includes progress on the political, security, and economic fronts for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu made the announcement via satellite from Jerusalem to the annual convention in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a leading pro-Israel lobbying group.

Appearing in person at the same event was U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, whose previous career in the Senate included deep involvement in foreign affairs and who is now a leading foreign-policy adviser to the president.

Biden spoke of his long support for Israel, and demanded that the Palestinians get better control over some of their more militant elements. But he also spoke emphatically about what he saw as Israel's responsibilities, too, and that includes backing the "two-state" solution.

"Israel has to work towards a two-state solution -- you're not going to like my saying this -- but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, its access to economic opportunity, and increased security responsibility," Biden said. "This is a 'show-me' deal. Not based on faith, [but] 'show me.'"

Two-State First?

Such actions by the Israelis -- if they took them -- would demonstrate their resolve for peace, and go a long way toward the two-state solution. And having Biden call for them before such an audience was a sign that Obama has no intention of easing pressure on Israel to try harder for peace with the Palestinians.

Many analysts say that is the only way that Israel can hope to make peace with its other neighbors in the Middle East.

But that's not the view of Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois. He also was a legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference of 1991, the formal start of the current peace process.

Boyle says that he has long urged Middle East negotiators to focus on Israel first making peace with its neighbors, particularly Syria and Lebanon. For Netanyahu to pay so much attention now to Iran, he says, is not only irrelevant, it makes peace harder to achieve.

"A settlement here -- and not just between Israel and the Palestinians, but Israel and Syria and Lebanon -- would stabilize the Middle East," Boyle says. "And unfortunately it just seems to me that the new Israeli government is really trying to switch the goal posts here."

Boyle says he doesn't believe Iran is, in fact, trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and says most people in the West -- particularly in Western Europe -- don't believe it, either, no matter what suspicions their governments may express.

In fact, Boyle says even Muhammad el-Baradei, the director-general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has questions about the exact nature of Iran's nuclear program.

"Certainly the Bush administration made those claims [about an Iranian weapons program], and I guess there are some people in the Obama administration that might see it that way. On the other hand, it appears there are others that might not and are prepared to sit down with the Iranians and negotiate in good faith," Boyle says.

"And it seems to me that that's the best way to deal with the Iranians. Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton said she is prepared to do this. Iran has indicated that they are prepared to negotiate over their nuclear program."

Instead of paying so much attention to Iran, Boyle says, it's probably best that Israel move quickly to pursue peace with Syria and Lebanon, then immediately start negotiations with the Palestinians for a two-state solution, under the guidance of the Obama administration.

But if the Israelis don't move fast, Boyle says, the grim conditions in the West Bank and particularly in Gaza could lead to a third Palestinian "intifada," or uprising. He says that's something no one can afford today.