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