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Netanyahu falters under direct US questions - Nasser Lahham

March 25, 2010 12:36 P.M. (Updated: April 3, 2010 7:34 P.M.)
According to the Israeli press, US President Barack Obama has posed two questions to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which made the leader stammer, lose his balance and schedule his flight home to Tel Aviv.

The first question, it seems, was “to what extent are you ready to divide Jerusalem?” and the second, “in what timeframe do you want to accomplish the process of reconciliation with the Palestinians?”

The press had no answers from the Israeli leader, who returned to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC for consultations with seven advisers.

For Netanyahu, they are two tricky questions to answer. If he tells Obama he is unwilling to divide Jerusalem and unable to reconcile with Palestinians, he would expose Israel to a series of unprecedented international sanctions from the Quartet and the international community. If he says he is willing to partition Jerusalem even 1%, his government will fail.

Incidentally, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni told reporters on Wednesday that she was ready to take a spot in the Netanyahu government if he returned to talks. She said she would not let the peace process fail.

The only indication of where Netanyahu stands in his decision-making is his meeting with US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. The envoy left the Israeli prime minister without result but said he planned to return to the region after the Passover and Easter holidays to see about re-starting talks.

Shortly before Netanyahu arrived in Washington, Palestinian leaders were told they would receive an update on talks with Obama ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas' meeting with the preparatory committee of the Arab League, whose summit starts on Saturday.

The author is Ma'an News Agency's editor-in-chief.
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