JERUSALEM — Ahead of the arrival of President Barack Obama on a high-profile Mideast mission, Israel's new government on Monday sent mixed messages about pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to parliament that his hand is outstretched in peace and that he is ready for a "historic compromise," but one of his closest allies called hopes for peace "delusional."
The conflicting signals gave a glimpse of the infighting that is likely to hinder the government if Netanyahu, who has historically been reluctant to make serious concessions to the Palestinians, decides to launch any new diplomatic initiatives.
"The rhetoric about peace is one thing and doing peace is something else. Doing peace requires deeds," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said of the new Israeli government.
Well aware of the large gaps between the sides, Obama has been careful to lower expectations for the 48-hour visit, which begins Wednesday. The White House has already said he will not bring any bold new initiatives. He will leave the details of diplomacy to his secretary of state, John Kerry, who is expected in the region in the coming weeks.
Instead, Obama plans to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in hopes of finding some common ground. Toward that goal, the White House confirmed Monday that the president has added a third, previously unscheduled meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday, immediately after returning from talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. There are no plans for the three to meet together.
Upon taking office in 2009, Obama vowed to make Mideast peace a priority. But talks never got off the ground, and Obama turned his attention elsewhere.