by RAY FLEMING

THE suddenness and the brevity of the meeting between President Obama and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu at Andrews Air Force base yesterday is puzzling. Who proposed it? There was no press conference afterwards and the only words on the outcome of the meeting came from Mr Netanyahu: “It was a very focussed and positive conversation. I think this visit will turn out to have been very important.” That told the waiting world nothing. The subject might have been Iran or the Palestinian peace talks -- or perhaps both, since Israel finds it advantageous to link them. All that can be said with some certainty is that either one side or the other thought it important to arrange a meeting before President Obama embarked on his Asian tour that will keep him away from Washington for over one week.

In other developments, France joined the long list of countries urging the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to think again about his announced decision not to stand for re-election early next year. The French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said yesterday that Abbas was essential to a resumption of peace negotiations with Israel and endorsed Abbas' insistence that a freeze on Israeli settlement construction is necessary before they can be resumed. Meanwhile, a word of recognition to the Palestinian activists who used the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall to remove a section of the wall built by Israel to keep Palestinian prisoners in their own land.

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