If a symposium two weeks ago at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington was any indication, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not high on the agenda of the US capital’s foreign policy establishment, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval said on Sunday.
Shoval, an informal adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who meets with him routinely, returned last week from meetings in Washington, including with “a senior person in the White House who deals with the Middle East.”
Shoval said US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel was discussed, and that he reported back to Netanyahu on the meeting.
Shoval said he found interesting the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not raised at the symposium he participated in at the Washington think tank, a nonpartisan, government-funded institution dealing with conflict resolution.
The symposium was attended not only by academics, but also former government officials now part of Washington’s foreign policy establishment, he said.
“What this showed me is that consciously or subconsciously, this issue is not on the top of anyone’s agendas, except for those who deal with the issue directly as their area of personal expertise,” Shoval said.
Rather then focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as was the case at similar symposiums he has attend at the institute in the past, there was more concern this time about jihadist elements in the region, the Sunni- Shi’ite rift, disappointment over the results of the “Arab Spring,” and how the Iranian crisis would be resolved, he said.
A number of government officials said last week that the violence that hit the West Bank last week following the death in prison of Palestinian security prisoner Arafat Jaradat was an attempt to get the issue back on the US agenda before Obama’s visit in less than three weeks.
In a related issue, government officials said planning for Obama’s two-and-a-half-day visit scheduled to begin on March 20 was continuing at full speed, even with the difficulties Netanyahu is having in putting together a government.
The two-week extension that Netanyahu received from President Shimon Peres on Saturday night to form a government expires on March 16
, four days before Obama’s planned arrival.
“The bureaucracy is continuing to work on the visit, and I am not aware anyone is thinking it will not take place as scheduled,” one official said, confident Netanyahu will have a government by then. The official said there were three layers of planning for the presidential visit: the considerable logistical aspects, the ceremonial side, and preparing the content of what the two leaders will discuss.
“All that is moving ahead,” he said.