US President Barack Obama said in an interview with Time magazine published on Thursday that he had erred in raising expectations of a quick and smooth peace process between Israel and the Palestinians under his auspices.
Obama said during his first year in office, he had learned what former presidents also had to discover the hard way - that there are deep-seated, ancient and religious differences at play in the Middle East conflict that make it difficult for either side to move forward.
Obama said he knew that it wouldn't be easy going in, but overestimated his ability to persuade the Israelis and the Arabs to brush aside their disagreements and reach a final status peace agreement.
Obama almost seemed to excuse Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' intransigence by saying he had "Hamas looking over his shoulder and, I think, an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process."
Israel, on the other hand, was the recipient of muted criticism when the president said that only after "a lot of time" did Jerusalem finally offer and implement gestures to get talks back on track, and even then they were not the "bold gestures" Washington and the Arabs had demanded.
In November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a 10-month freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. At the time, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised what she called an "unprecedented" move, and nearly scolded Abbas for remaining defiant.
But as the weeks went by and the Palestinians made it clear they would settle for nothing less than total Israeli surrender, the Obama Administration changed its tune and began pressuring Israel to come further in line with Arab demands.
An Israeli official cited by Israel's Channel 2 News on Thursday said the Netanyahu government had warned Obama that making peace would not be so easy, and that for more than a decade Israeli gestures and concessions had only led to increased Arab demands that Israel couldn't possibly meet.
The official echoed criticism over the past couple months by Israeli commentators that Obama had actually made the situation worse by raising Palestinian expectations that he would back bigger demands on Israel than previous presidents.
As a result, Abbas has today set red lines that no Israeli prime minister could accept, making the conclusion of a peace deal in the near future all but impossible.
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