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Monday, May 16, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama administration split over pressuring Israel on Palestinian state

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama appears divided over whether to pressure Israel to ensure the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.


Administration sources said the question over whether to pressure Israel has divided the National Security Council and State Department. The sources said the dispute has centered on whether Israel should approve a Palestinian state even without agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

"Now is the time for President Obama to take charge personally of his Israeli-Palestinian policy," Debra DeLee, president of the pro-Palestinian Americans for Peace Now, said. "Envoys and shuttle diplomacy have had their day. What is needed now is resolute personal engagement and dramatic action from the president himself."

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On May 13, Obama's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, submitted his resignation.

Mitchell's resignation was scheduled to take effect on Friday, the day Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The sources said the president, who plans to give a speech on the Middle East on May 19, wants Netanyahu to cooperate with the Palestinian unity government as a first step toward the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the next few months.

On May 14, Netanyahu telephoned Mitchell and congratulated him for his service, Middle East Newsline reported. The prime minister was quoted as saying that the PA's refusal to negotiate with Israel contributed to Mitchell's decision to resign.

"They [Palestinians] set countless preconditions that made [Mitchell's] work difficult, and at the end of the process even united with Hamas," Netanyahu said.

The 77-year-old Mitchell said he had intended to serve in the administration for only two years.

"More than two years having passed I hereby resign, effective May 20, 2011," Mitchell said in his resignation letter to Obama. "I trust this will provide sufficient time for an effective transition."

"The president's commitment remains as firm as it was when he took office," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "This is a hard issue, an extraordinarily hard issue."

The sources said Obama wants to stick to his commitment for the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2012. But they said the president's senior aides were divided over how far Obama should push Israel in wake of an agreement for a PA government that would contain Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.

"We have made good progress here on critical security improvements for the Israelis," Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said. "We have continued to work very closely with the Palestinian security and institution-building efforts."

Still, the sources said Obama regards his pledge to establish a Palestinian state as a test of his and American credibility. They said Arab and Muslim allies have pressed the president to launch another diplomatic campaign to restart the Israeli-Palestinian process.

Meanwhile, Mitchell has been replaced by his deputy, David Hale. Obama has also named a senior adviser, Daniel Shapiro, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.

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