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Obama now more likely to take a final shot at the 'peace process'

    No more grim-faced meetings: Netanyahu and Obama
    No more grim-faced meetings: Netanyahu and Obama

    On Sunday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting assuring Israelis that whoever is elected as the new American president, "I am convinced Israel-US relations, which are steady and strong, will not only stay that way, but will continue to strengthen."

    He even made sure he used the feminine form of "president" in Hebrew (nesiah) as well as the masculine (nasi). Just in case.

    His next remarks, however, revealed he was more concerned with the current president than whoever replaced him in the White House.

    "We also expect that the US remains true to the principle that it held by for many years: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through direct negotiations without pre-conditions and, of course, not through UN resolutions or other international forums."

    In the last two months of his presidency - between the election and the swearing-in of President Donald Trump - Barack Obama may be a "lame-duck" leader, but Mr Netanyahu fears that, freed from any obligation not to jeopardise Hillary Clinton's prospects among Jewish and other pro-Israel voters, he may take a last shot at the conflict that has defied all previous US presidents.

    Since two months is not long enough to launch a new diplomatic drive to solve the conflict, the fear in Jerusalem is that Mr Obama will make a last-minute move to set out what such a solution might look like.

    Such a move could take the form of a presidential speech, or the US could abandon its long-standing practice of vetoing UN resolutions that are unfavourable to Israel.

    In either case, Mr Netanyahu believes, Israel would have its hands tied in future negotiations

    and international pressure would be increased.

    The expectation is that such a parting shot from President Obama is now more likely that Mr Trump had been elected. A victory by Mrs Clinton, his previous secretary of state, would have allowed Mr Obama to hope that the next administration would continue his policies. Mr Trump, however, is expected to pursue a radically different foreign policy which could spur Mr Obama to at least leave some form of legacy.

    The US administration has so far refused to give the Israeli government any assurance that it will hold back in its last months. The signing of the $38 billion, 10-year military aid agreement in September could be a sign the administration is not interested in pressuring Israel further, or it could be seen as Mr Obama proving he is not hostile to Israel, clearing the way for a last-minute diplomatic gesture.

    Recent condemnations of Israeli settlement building have been harsher than in the past but this is still just rhetoric, not a policy change. Mr Obama may not have yet decided what he plans to do on the issue. The situation in other, more tense, places in the Middle East may take up all his time anyway. But for now, he seems happy to keep Mr Netanyahu sweating.

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