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Obama has chance to reset U.S.-Israeli priorities

Today's meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers a chance to patch up a relationship damaged by the White House's initial inept foray into the complex tangle of Middle East diplomacy.
By seeming to fault Israel as the impediment to progress toward peace, the administration inadvertently signaled a lack of resolve in support of the Jewish state. That was seized on by hostile Arab states, Holocaust-denying Iran and Israel-phobic forces in Europe as an excuse for an eruption of virulent Israel bashing.

The issue boiled over in March over one level of approval in a long bureaucratic process for new housing in Jerusalem. It provoked a vocal U.S. rebuke, though Netanyahu had taken the unprecedented step of freezing settlement construction for 10 months in a show of good will to Obama. The resulting anti-Israel campaign culminated in May's so-called "peace flotilla" carrying provocateurs who initiated violence against Israeli soldiers.

Since Obama's last unfortunate meeting with Netanyahu -- when this leader of an allied nation was treated like a pariah -- the president has met with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Unlike Netanyahu, Abbas imposes pre-conditions for direct negotiations and agrees only to "proximity" talks. Netanyahu offers to go to Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah for negotiations. Abbas says no to direct talks unless Israel agrees to retreat to indefensible "1967 borders," a position long abandoned in reasonable proposals for a two-state solution.

To his credit, Obama brought up the issue of anti-Israeli incitement in Palestinian society. Abbas responded that "we're not doing that." The Palestinian Media Watch, which monitors newspapers, broadcasts and teaching in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, produced an extensive, detailed account of Israel hate emanating from areas controlled by Abbas.

You might think that Abbas would have taken Obama's admonition as evidence he needed to do something about the incitement. But that hasn't been the case, as demonstrated by several egregious examples since his early June visit to Washington.

On June 21, Palestinian Authority TV rebroadcast a show claiming prominent Israeli cities such as Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias are Palestinian. Another PA-TV program described Israeli soldiers as "wild animals" and said, "The Jews are our enemies."

In late June, a PA-TV game show, "The Stars," solicited answers describing "Palestine" as including all of Israel. In a June 25 sermon, the Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti, an interpreter of religious law, claimed the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is threatened by "the enemies of Allah," a term used for Jews.

You wouldn't know from this ugly propaganda that an encouraging economic revival, aided and abetted by Israel, is under way in the West Bank. Its economy has grown by 8 percent with new buildings rising, tourism increasing and unemployment declining. Israel has taken down 150 roadblocks and 27 checkpoints, leaving only 14 checkpoints. The Jewish state has directed more than $200 million for economic, transportation and housing projects for Palestinians and Bedouins.

Such progress stands in contrast to conditions in Gaza, run by Hamas terrorists. Even so, no humanitarian crisis exists there, as claimed by Israel's foes. Still, Israel is easing the blockade it maintains with Egypt to keep arms from Hamas. The number of daily supply trucks entering Gaza is up 50 percent and rising.

Netanyahu should come to today's meeting willing to do his part to repair relations with Obama. The most productive thing Obama could do to advance the cause of peace would be to highlight the Israeli measures aiding the Palestinian economy and back Netanyahu's appeal for direct talks. He should urge Abbas to join such talks and to prepare his people for peace by once and for all ending anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian media and schools.