Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is back in Washington this week, meeting with President Obama a few weeks after a similar White House visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and after an earlier visit by Netanyahu was postponed amid the Gaza flotilla fiasco. Bibi is publicly pushing for face-to-face talks with the Palestinians instead of the "indirect" talks now under way with U.S. assistance. He is using Palestinian rejection of direct talks to his public relations advantage, but Netanyahu clearly doesn't want to talk about final status issues such as borders and security that will inevitably come up in direct talks. Not talking about final-status issues of a two-state solution will quickly put him at odds with the Obama administration and yet talking about them will anger his right-wing coalition at home. He knows that Jerusalem is squarely on the table in such talks, yet he has said repeatedly throughout his career that he has no intention of agreeing to divide the city as the capital of both nations. His government rejects the "Clinton parameters" for peace established at Camp David in 2000 as leaving Israel with indefensible borders, yet his preference for essentially a demilitarized Palestinian rump state is also likely to put him at odds with Obama.
So why is he pushing for direct talks? Does he see it as an easy way to deflect pressure, knowing that as long as he continues to build settlements in East Jerusalem, Abbas cannot afford to enter into direct talks? Does he think such talks will go nowhere as long as Hamas continues to rule Gaza? Or perhaps he is seeking a trade: a softening of his position on Palestine in return for an ironclad US promise to confront Iran, militarily if necessary, if Tehran does not halt its nuclear program? What game is Netanyahu playing? And what should Obama's response be?