AP | MSNBC | 11/14/2010 | 5:03:09 PM ET
President Barack Obama on Sunday hailed the prospect of a new settlement freeze in the disputed West Bank as a promising step toward peace, urging Israelis and Palestinians to get back into serious negotiations quickly. An upbeat president also pledged to return to the basic principles that drove his thinking when he first came to the White House, including sticking to a more bipartisan tone and better explaining his decisions to the American people.
He spoke of moving from an "obsessive focus" on policy and making changes to his approach after a humbling midterm election. "The fact that we are out of crisis — although still obviously in a difficult time — I think will give me the capacity," Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One at the end of long Asia trip.
On the Mideast, Washington’s new proposal for reviving peace talks includes a 90-day ban on housing starts in West Bank settlements — but not in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital. The goal is to give the two sides a three-month period to shape borders of side-by-side states, a daunting, elusive mission. Obama commended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making a "very constructive step" toward creating an environment for peace. "I think it’s a signal that he’s serious," Obama said.
U.S. officials said Netanyahu told the administration that he supports the plan and will try to win approval from his Cabinet. Obama said he hopes the Israeli leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will resume negotiations soon. A previous 10-month moratorium in the West Bank expired Sept. 26, and talks have stalled, casting doubt about the notion of a peace deal within a year’s time, as Obama has sought. Just a few days ago, during a stop in Indonesia, Obama acknowledged he was worried about the peace process and urged both sides to show more effort.
Looking rested after two legs of an all-night flight from Asia, Obama on Sunday made an unannounced visit to the press cabin of Air Force One just before the plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington. The president sounded optimistic about getting Senate ratification of a new U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty during the postelection session of Congress, during which lawmakers try to push through matters before a new Congress convenes.
msnbc.com | 9/26/2010 | 6:15:12 AM ET
Palestinians would not immediately end peace talks with Israel if it did not extend a 10-month limited settlement moratorium expiring on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as saying. In another sign that a way could be found out of a crisis threatening negotiations that began less than a month ago, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said there was more than an even chance the peace process would continue.
Abbas has said repeatedly he would walk out of direct negotiations with Israel unless the partial halt to building remained in place. Palestinians view Israel’s settlements as a formidable obstacle to statehood. But asked in an interview conducted on Friday with pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat whether he would declare an end to the negotiations if the partial construction freeze did not continue, Abbas said, "No, we will go back to the Palestinian institutions, to the Arab (League) follow-up committee."
He was referring to an Arab League forum that gave permission to proceed to pursue direct peace talks with Israel that began on Sept. 2. The 10-month settlement moratorium expires at midnight (2200 GMT) on Sunday.
Obama has urged Israel to continue the freeze, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition is packed with pro-settler parties, has offered only to limit the scope of renewed building rather than order a moratorium extension. Israeli and Palestinian officials met U.S. diplomats in New York over the weekend to try to find a solution and to prevent the much-heralded negotiations from falling at the first hurdle.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who held talks over the past several days in New York on the issue, said there was a better than even chance the peace negotiations would continue even without a moratorium. "I think that the chance of achieving a mutually agreed understanding about (a) moratorium is 50-50. I think that the chances of having a peace process are much higher," he said in a BBC interview.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell resumed his push for direct Middle East peace talks on Tuesday with signs coming from Palestinian leaders that they might bow to pressure and agree to meet the Israelis face-to-face. Mitchell was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to address questions from both before returning home on Wednesday. The stalled peace process resumed in May after an 18-month hiatus, but only at the level of indirect “proximity talks”, in which Mitchell acts as a shuttling, third-party diplomat. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants direct talks to resume by September before a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank is set to expire, with possibly dire consequences for the process.
Abbas hinted on Monday that he might soon bow to international pressure, end the impasse and resume direct negotiations for the first time in almost two years. Netanyahu has said he is ready to begin immediately. “Until now, we did not agree,” Abbas said. “We may face other pressures that we cannot endure. If that happens, I will study this thing with the leadership … and take the appropriate decision,” he told reporters at his office.
Abbas insists that direct talks tackle all territory Israel has occupied since capturing them in the 1967 Middle East war. He includes Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state and the Jordan Valley, where Israel might insist on continuing to secure the Jordan border with its own forces. Abbas also wants a total halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, and an agreed Continue reading
Bloomberg | Jul 6, 2010
President Barack Obama meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today at a moment when U.S.-Israeli ties are improving. Further warming may depend on whether Israel extends a settlement-building freeze due to expire in September. The U.S. sided with Israel in the face of international criticism following its raid on a Gaza aid flotilla in May and persuaded the United Nations to impose additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program last month. Those actions helped reverse a downturn in relations that developed over Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem. Dan Shapiro, senior director at the White House for the Middle East and North Africa, told reporters last week that the freeze on building new homes in West Bank settlements, announced by Netanyahu on Nov. 25, has helped advance efforts toward the goal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There has been a distinct improvement in the White House relationship with Israel since the last meeting” between Obama and Netanyahu on March 23, said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. “Obama will be looking for a payback,” perhaps in the form of an extension to the settlement freeze, Spyer said. The stakes are potentially high for both leaders. Obama has expended political capital on reviving the peace negotiations, beginning with indirect talks intended to lead toward direct ones — something that aides to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas say won’t happen unless Israel halts all settlement building. Netanyahu could lose his parliamentary majority if he extends the settlement freeze beyond the Sept. 26 expiration.
The Obama administration is “very keen to see the moratorium extended,” said Roger Danin, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “That’s a very difficult issue they will probably not be able to resolve during this visit.” Shapiro said the focus of the discussion between the leaders would be “on making that transition into direct talks” and on what has been covered through the indirect talks. U.S. officials say that relations between the two countries have improved considerably since March, when Israel’s announcement of the east Jerusalem housing plan in the midst of a visit by Vice President Joe Biden drew criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “There’s absolutely no rift between the United States and Israel,” said Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security adviser. “This is a relationship that is very strong and very important to the United States.”