Obama: US won’t be able to defend Israel if peace talks fail
Ahead of meeting with Netanyahu, president says unprecedented ‘aggressive settlement construction’ detrimental to peace process
BY*ADIV STERMAN*March 2, 2014, 11:51 pm362
Israel can expect to face international isolation and possible sanctions from countries and companies across the world if Benjamin Netanyahu fails to endorse a framework agreement with the Palestinians, US President Barack Obama cautioned on Sunday ahead of a meeting with the Israeli prime minister.In an*interview with Bloomberg, Obama stressed that time was running out for Israel to achieve a peace deal, and added that he believed Netanyahu had the capacity to rally Israel’s citizens behind an agreement.
But if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach,” Obama said.“There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” he said.The president went on to stress that he would convey to Netanyahu, in the spirit of the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, that the prime minister could lead Israel toward peace if he chose to do so.
If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” Obama said.The president went on to condemn in no uncertain terms Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, and said that though his allegiance to the Jewish state was permanent, building settlements across the Green Line was counterproductive and would make it extremely difficult for the US to defend Israel from painful*repercussions in the*international community.“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” Obama said.The president added that Israel must come to a decision over its future character and weigh whether its current policies are conducive to achieving its true aspirations.“Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank?” he inquired of the Israeli public.“Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?” he asked.Obama further stated that in his opinion, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve” the conflict.
“We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like,” he added.Asked whether he felt Abbas was sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, the president replied that he was sure that was the case.“I think that this is a rare quality not just within the Palestinian territories, but in the Middle East generally,” Obama said of the Palestinian leader.*”For us not to seize that opportunity would be a mistake.”Netanyahu left for Washington Sunday for talks about the US-led peace process and nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran.Although Netanyahu would like the conversation with Obama to focus primarily on Iran, the White House appears to have a different agenda.“Obama will press him to agree to a framework for a conclusive round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that is being drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry,”*The New York Times quoted*senior US officials as saying last week.Direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which began last July with the goal of reaching a deal within nine months, have made no visible progress.Kerry is now focused on getting the two sides to agree on a framework proposal which would extend the deadline until the year’s end.Although the document has not yet been made public, it is understood to be a non-binding proposal laying out guidelines for negotiating the central issues of the conflict, such as borders, security, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.The proposal, or its outline, is likely to be presented to Netanyahu this week and to Abbas on March 17 when he meets Obama at the White House.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
At White House, Israel's Netanyahu pushes back against Obama diplomacy
By Jeffrey Heller and Matt SpetalnickWASHINGTON*|*Mon Mar 3, 2014 6:11pm ESTSHARE THIS ARTICLEEmailFacebookTwitterBy Jeffrey Heller and Matt SpetalnickWASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told Barack Obama on Monday that he would never compromise on Israel's security even as the U.S. president sought to reassure him on Iran nuclear diplomacy and pressure him on Middle East peace talks.In a White House meeting overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, the two leaders avoided any direct clash during a brief press appearance but were unable to paper over differences on a pair of sensitive diplomatic drives that have stoked tensions between them.Obama assured Netanyahu of his "absolute commitment" to preventing Iran from developing atomic weapons, despite the Israeli leader's deep skepticism over U.S.-led efforts to reach a final international deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program.But Obama also urged Netanyahu to make "tough decisions" to help salvage a faltering U.S.-brokered peace process aimed at reaching a framework agreement with the Palestinians and extending talks beyond an April target date for an elusive final accord."The Israeli people expect me to stand strong against criticism and pressure," Netanyahu told Obama.Obama and Netanyahu, who have had strained relations in the past, showed no outright tension as they sat side-by-side in the Oval Office. Both were cordial and businesslike. But their differences were clear, and when the talks ended after nearly three hours there was no immediate sign of progress.Netanyahu arrived in Washington to a veiled warning from Obama that it would be harder to protect Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if peace efforts failed.The Israeli prime minister used their brief joint appearance to put the onus on the Palestinians to advance prospects for peace and also to vow to hold the line on Israel's security.HISTORY LESSONIn his remarks, Netanyahu offered Obama what was essentially a history lesson covering the last 20 years of conflict with the Palestinians as well as what Israelis see as an existential threat from Iran, arch-foe of the Jewish state."Iran calls openly for Israel's destruction, so I'm sure you'll appreciate that Israel cannot permit such a state to have the ability to make atomic bombs to achieve that goal," Netanyahu said. "And I, as the prime minister of Israel, will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state."Obama is seeking room for diplomacy with Iran, while Netanyahu, who has stoked U.S. concern in the past with threats of unilateral strikes on Iran's nuclear sites, has complained that sanctions on Tehran are being eased prematurely.The meeting with Netanyahu marked a new direct foray into Middle East peacemaking by Obama, whose first-term efforts ended in failure.Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to persuade Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a framework deal that would enable land-for-peace negotiations to continue, even though there is widespread skepticism inside and outside of the region about his chances for success.Abbas, who seeks Palestinian statehood, is due at the White House on March 17. He has resisted Netanyahu's demand, repeated during the Oval Office meeting, for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.Netanyahu appeared to be pushing back implicitly against Obama's warning in a Bloomberg View interview of "international fallout" for Israel if peace efforts break down and the building of Jewish settlements continues.Israelis, increasingly concerned about an anti-Israel boycott movement, view such U.S. warnings as an attempt to squeeze out concessions.Possibly further complicating the talks, an Israeli government report showed that Israeli construction starts of settler homes had more than doubled last year.Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those areas in the 1967 Middle East war and in 2005, pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now run by Hamas Islamists opposed to Abbas's peace efforts.OBAMA URGES COMPROMISE"Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven't," Netanyahu said, an assertion he is likely to repeat on Tuesday to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, a past podium for some of his most strident speeches.Obama commended Netanyahu for his role in "painstaking negotiations" that resumed in July and urged "compromise on both sides."Palestinians point to Israeli settlement-building in occupied West Bank territory as the main obstacle to peace.Netanyahu told Obama that Jewish history taught Israelis that "the best way to guarantee peace is to be strong."His remark harkened, but without the stridency, to an Oval Office visit in 2011 when he famously lectured the U.S. president on the long struggles of the Jewish people, as he sought to counter Obama's call to base any peace agreement on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.Ukraine has dominated Obama's agenda, and the crisis was touched upon during Netanyahu's visit. "I know you've got a few other pressing matters on your plate," he joked to Obama.Obama used his press appearance to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow faces international isolation for its military intervention in Ukraine's Crimea region.On Iran, Obama and Netanyahu gave no real sign of progress in bridging fundamental differences.Netanyahu, whose country is widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed nation, has denounced as a "historic mistake" an interim deal that world powers reached with Iran in November, under which it agreed to curb sensitive nuclear activities in return for limited sanctions relief.He has demanded that any final deal completely dismantle Tehran's uranium enrichment centrifuges, a position that is at odds with Obama's suggestion that Iran, which says its nuclear program is peaceful, could be allowed to enrich on a limited basis for civilian purposes.(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Tom Brown and Mohammad Zargham)SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Mar 04, 2014