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Israeli leader's upcoming U.S. trip loses steam

Netanyahu's visit was earlier said to include a bold peace announcement, but that looks unlikely now. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is deeply split on whether to offer an 'Obama plan.'

May 16, 2011|By Edmund Sanders and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times

Netanyahu's conservative supporters have been lobbying hard against any new concessions, such as imposing a temporary freeze on building in West Bank settlements or embracing 1967 borders as a baseline for future talks.

Likud Party minister Benny Begin, a member of Netanyahu's seven-member inner Cabinet, scoffed at calls for "bold" initiatives, saying that's usually a code word for more Israeli concessions.

"Can you imagine making more concessions with Hamas now playing such a significant role?" he said of plans for a Palestinian unity government. "People keep saying they want us to surprise them on May 24, but that's not in the cards."

During a Likud meeting earlier Monday, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom warned Netanyahu that any dramatic concessions made in the U.S. could cause Israel's right-wing coalition government to fracture. "We'll lose the elections and disband should you stray from the Likud way," he told Netanyahu, according to a report on the Israeli news site Ynet.

Nonetheless, Brom predicted it was only a matter of time before international pressure on Israel resumed.

"In the longer term, it puts Netanyahu in a corner," Brom said. "He will say there's no one to talk to on the Palestinian side, but Americans … will say, and rightfully so, that the reconciliation agreement is partly the result of Netanyahu's own policy because he offered no alternative. And I am not sure he has an answer for that."

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator now with the New America Foundation, predicted that U.S. officials would argue that Israel must find a way back to negotiations if the administration is to help it reduce international diplomatic pressure and deflect the Palestinians' effort to win U.N. recognition.

The administration will tell him privately that "he's going to have to give Obama something to work with if he wants America to help," Levy said.

Sanders reported from Jerusalem and Richter from Washington. Batsheva Sobelman of The Times' Jerusalem bureau and special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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