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Middle East

Netanyahu’s double-dare strategy

Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has positioned himself as the stubborn child at the latest UN General Assembly and could drag his feet as he goes into a meeting with US President Barack Obama in the White House.

Netanyahu will address the General Assembly on Tuesday, the day after he speaks directly with Obama. He has already swayed attention away from escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine and the use of chemical weapons in Syria, toward his favored topic, Iran.

Netanyahu is expected to warn the international community to treat an Iranian pledge to peacefully resolve the nuclear dispute and to not develop nuclear arms with skepticism.

Dragging his heels

Netanyahu drew an early line in the sand at the beginning of the General Assembly leading an Israeli delegation boycott of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech which he called "cynical" and "full of hypocrisy."

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 24, 2013 REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)--- eingestellt von haz

Israel's delegation boycotted Rouhani's speech

"I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction."

He slammed Rouhani’s pledge to resolve the nuclear dispute with the West peacefully and his commitment not to develop nuclear arms.

"Iran’s conciliatory words will have to be matched by action that is transparent and verifiable."

"Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb."

"Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons but we will not be fooled by half measures," Netanyahu said.

Two top priorities

President Obama’s priorities were clearly defined in the first week of the General Assembly when he said future US diplomatic efforts would focus primarily on stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help service as a foundation for a broader peace."

On the sidelines of the General Assembly Obama met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and applauded the efforts of Abbas and Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table. It was the first face-to-face meeting since March, when Obama visited the West Bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

Obama met Abbas before talks with Netanyahu

"None of us are under any illusion that this would be easy. But I think the reason they’ve been willing to take those risks is they realize this is the best way, the only way, for us to achieve what should be our goal: two states living side-by-side in peace and security," said Obama.

Fresh conflict

Fresh conflict between Israel and Palestine has erupted since the Jewish New Year and seven-day festival Sukkot with the death of two Israeli Defense Force soldiers in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities said soldier Tomer Hazan, 20, was murdered by a Palestinian acquaintance who lured him to a village near Qalqilya in the West Bank.

Gavriel Kobi, 20, was shot dead at the Tut Atarek Junction, near the Cave of Patriarchs by a Palestinian sniper on September 22.

Settler agenda - another grab

Immediately after the death of Kobi, Netanyahu lashed out at the peace process - in a statement he called for action to be taken to move settlers into Machpela House, in Hebron’s Palestinian neighborhood, near where Kobi was shot.

"We will continue to fight terrorism and strike at terrorists with one hand, and strengthen settlement with the other," he said.

Israel’s Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice, issued a statement clarifying their position saying the building would not be occupied until it had been registered in the Land Registry, a process it said could take months, or years. It is unclear if Netanyahu intended to intervene to speed up the process.

A group of 14 Palestinians, many who are part owners of Machpela House, filed a petition to the High Court of Justice seeking an injunction against moving settlers into the house.

Houses are seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah July 18, 2013. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which have ebbed and flowed for two decades, last broke down in late 2010, after a partial settlement halt meant to foster talks ended and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend it. Palestinians familiar with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' thinking speculated he might now forgo the demand for a settlement moratorium given a recent slowdown in housing starts issued by Israel's government, though it may still be painful to roll back his previous demand. If Abbas yields on the issue, it may be in exchange for a goodwill gesture from Israel such as amnesty for around 100 veteran PLO fighters long held in its jails. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION)

Israeli settlements are a key issue in the peace talks

Hareetz newspaper reported that a group lead by Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon went to Machpela House in the past week and were asked to leave the premises by the military.

The military have been preventing anyone from moving into the building and earlier this year they evicted Jewish settlers who had moved into the house after the Civil Administration found discrepancy in the purchase agreement they presented to prove ownership of the property.

Breakthrough or fiasco?

Eytan Gilboa , director of the center of international communication at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on American-Israeli relations, said the upcoming talks between Obama and Netanyahu were pivotal.

He noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s comments could be one of the greatest breakthroughs, or they could also be one of the biggest diplomatic fiascos. Gilboa added that Rouhani’s comments were well received, but few questions were being asked about whether Tehran was sincere in its pledge.

"I think it’s more likely to be a fiasco than a breakthrough."

Due to the positive feedback for Rouhani by the Western public, Netanyahu now needed to present a more balanced view and call to Rouhani to enter into direct negotiations over the nuclear weapon issue, added Gilboa.

Hareetz newspaper columnist Bradley Burston said Netanyahu was letting history pass him by at the latest meeting of the UN General Assembly.

"History has given Netanyahu a rare new chance to peaceably address Israel’s two main challenges: Iran and the occupation."

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) stands with Israel's President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) after landing at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv March 20, 2013. Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday without any new peace initiative to offer disillusioned Palestinians and facing deep Israeli doubts over his pledge to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS)

Obama and Netanyahu have a difficult relationship

"But Netanyahu, in the manner of the bitter old man he seems to have suddenly turned into, dismissed all of it with cranky blasts of cynicism. The possibility of peace is to be distrusted, he tells the world."

"No, the bottom-line purpose of this Israel is to settle the West Bank and East Jerusalem, even if that means settling on Palestinian-owned land, even if that means forcing the Bedouin and other Arabs off their lands."

Burston predicted that Netanyahu in talks with the president would try to emerge with the loudest and clearest possible statement from Obama that an Iranian bomb will not be allowed to happen and the "softest and vaguest possible Obama statement on Palestine and the Israeli occupation."

"Netanyahu is caught in a vice of domestic pressures. He has pledged to do everything he can to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but polls suggest that he may care about it a great deal more than the Israeli public does. At the same time, much of his party and his governing coalition are far-right activists who are opposed to any Palestinian state and are aggressively pro-settlement at nearly any cost," said Burston.

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