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Obama administration pursues two-state Mideast solution

The president will meet with three leaders from the region in coming weeks. Meanwhile, special envoy George Mitchell finds it tough going.

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The invitations, and related comments by administration officials, also suggest a return by the US to the traditional American diplomatic posture that the road to peace in the Middle East passes through Jerusalem -- in other words, that settling the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict will pave the way to broader regional stability.

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With the Iraq war, the Bush administration tested its formula that the road to regional peace might instead lead through Baghdad, but Obama formally lays that discredited approach to rest by reprising a more classic line of action.

Obama used the occasion of a visit to the White House on Tuesday by Jordan’s King Abdullah to lay out his commitment to substantive peace talks. Saying his aim is to move the process forward “with some urgency,” Obama added, “My hope would be that over the next several months, that you start seeing gestures of good faith on all sides.”

Obama moved quickly out of the blocks upon taking office in January by naming seasoned US diplomat George Mitchell his Middle East peace envoy. But former Senator Mitchell is not encountering bright prospects on his initial forays into the region.

Israel under Netanyahu has studiously avoided endorsing the two-state solution as his predecessor did. Upon taking office in late March, Netanyahu said Israel does “not want to rule the Palestinians,” adding, "Israel always, and today more than ever, strives to reach full peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world.” But at the same time, and subsequently, he has refrained from any mention of a Palestinian state.

Palestinians divided

At the same time, the Palestinians are divided between the supporters of President Mahmoud Abbas -- it is Mr. Abbas who will meet with Obama at the White House -- and those of Hamas, the radical Islamist organization that won control of Gaza in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

The result is that on his third trip to the region as Obama’s envoy earlier this month, Mitchell met with little enthusiasm -- from either resistant Israelis or skeptical Palestinians.

In addition to Netanyahu and President Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will travel to Washington to meet with Obama -- the three meetings expected by early June, according to White House officials.

Mr. Mubarak has not visited the US since 2004 -- a gauge for some experts in the region of how low prospects for the peace process have sunk in recent years, despite an eleventh-hour attempt by the Bush administration to reinvigorate them. Mubarak and the Egyptians enter the equation through their relationship with Hamas.

Recognizing that split Palestinian governance is a major obstacle to any progress towards a peace settlement, the Obama administration wants the two principle governing organizations -- Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah party -- to accept a national unity government composed of technocrats -- and not politicians -- until elections are held early next year.

Says WINEP’s Clawson, “Obama will say to the Egyptians, ‘You are the lifeline to Hamas, so you are in a particularly good position to press them, and to help us get this national unity government that can pave the way to some badly-needed signs of progress’.”