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Leon Panetta in Israel: Will his urgent messages bring action?

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The US desire to see peace talks under way once again has more to do with US relations with the region than with any strong prospects for the Israelis and Palestinians to actually make progress towards a peace accord, Mr. Phillips says.

“Every White House wants something going because it’s easier for the US to operate in the Arab and Muslim worlds when there’s a peace process,” he says. “This administration is no different in wanting the Israelis and Palestinians to get up on the two-seat bicycle, even if everybody knows there’s no chance of a comprehensive settlement any time soon.”

Panetta is also scheduled to meet in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minster Salam Fayyad.

Panetta’s visit to Israel, part of a swing through the Middle East before he attends a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, comes just six months after former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a similar trip. Mr. Gates was the first US defense secretary to visit Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

But Gates was also reported (by Bloomberg’s Jeff Goldberg) to have told a summer national security session at the White House shortly before he stepped down that Israel is an “ungrateful ally” that has given the US little or nothing – particularly concerning the peace process – in return for America’s rock solid security guarantees.

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