WASHINGTON, D.C.– United States President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 in a bid to bolster faltering peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. The talks between the U.S. President and the Israeli Prime Minister come a day after an article was published in which Obama called on Netanyahu “to seize the moment” in negotiations on ending the nearly seven-decade long conflict with the Palestinians.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in late July following a nearly three-year pause; the two sides appear to have made little progress in the negotiations over creating an independent Palestinian state.
When the negotiations were launched in Washington over the summer, the goal was to reach agreement on an accord to end the conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians by April 29. The goal posts appear to have shifted, with officials now saying that agreement on a framework accord would allow the discussions to continue past the end of next month.
The framework document, the contents of which have not been made public, is reportedly aimed at reaching agreement on the core issues of the 66-year-old conflict, including the borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants and Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state.
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg news agency published March 2, Obama took aim at Netanyahu, warning the Israeli leader that the “window is closing” for a peace deal. “When I have a conversation with Bibi (Netanyahu,) that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?,” Obama told Goldberg.
In language uncharacteristically critical of Israel by a U.S. President, Obama went on to say that if “continued aggressive settlement construction” continued, it would be difficult for Washington to shield to Israel, its most stalwart ally in the Middle East, from “international fallout.”
In comments that are likely to further strain ties between Washington and Jerusalem, the U.S. President said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was “sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, to recognize Israel’s legitimate security needs, to shun violence, to resolve these issues in a diplomatic fashion that meets the concerns of the people of Israel.”
Arriving in Washington on the evening of March 2, the Israeli prime minister responded to Obama’s remarks, telling Israel’s Channel 2 television that, “I won’t give into pressure.”
The composition of the Israeli government, which is largely comprised of right-wing parties, has inhibited Netanyahu’s ability to make concessions in talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s room for maneuver in the negotiations have been constrained not only by government ministers from the pro-settlement Jewish National Home and Yisrael Beiteinu parties, but also by members of the prime ministers own Likud Party, which is dominated politicians who favor settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, when the Jewish state also seized the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Israel return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 and withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to more than 100 settlements that are viewed as illegal under international law.
– Eric Erdahl