(by Rebecca Kaplan, CBS News) – President Obama pressed for movement on Middle East peace talks during a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday, diving into an effort he has largely left to Secretary of State John Kerry so far.
A peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians has been a long elusive goal, and one that the president had put aside after a failed first-term attempt. Kerry has led the way with several visits to the region as he works to convince Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a framework for a final accord.
In their meeting Monday, Mr. Obama ramped up pressure on Netanyahu by arguing that he is the leader who has the ability to steer the country toward a peace deal – so long as he acts soon. The president said in an interview with Bloomberg View that 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.”
The president commended Netanyahu for his “seriousness” in the peace talks but also warned that time was running out to establish a framework for peace. “Tough decisions are going to have to be made,” he said.
Though he made just brief remarks about the peace process, the Bloomberg interview offered a window into what the president might tell Netanyahu behind closed doors Monday.
“There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” Mr. Obama said in the Bloomberg View interview. “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? 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?”
Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel has taken “unprecedented steps” toward the peace process, but criticized Palestinians for failing to return the gestures.[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.] [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.]
“What we all want fervently is peace. Not a piece of paper, but that too, but a real peace that is anchored in recognition of two nation states that recognize and respect each other,” Netanyahu said prior to his meeting with Mr. Obama. And while the Israelis will have to recognize a state for the Palestinians, he said, “I think its about time they recognized a nation state for the Jewish people. We’ve only been there for 4,000 years and I hope President Abbas does this as I hope he’ll take seriously Israel’s security needs.”
Obama and Netanyahu also discussed the ongoing international negotiations to roll back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, an effort that Netanyahu has greeted with public skepticism. Before the two leaders met Monday, he called preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon “the greatest challenge” the two countries face. [President Obama has pushed for ending sanctions against Iran in favor of direct negotiations with the Iranian government over its nuclear weapons program.]
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States, has so far failed to convince Congress to impose fresh sanctions on Iran – a move the White House has said could derail the talks. Netanyahu will speak to the group Tuesday, but Mr. Obama, who has spoken to the group twice before, will not. Though Netanyahu did not publicly push for sanctions, he did say Iran must be prevented from developing uranium.
“I can tell you that no country has a greater stake in this than Israel,” he said. “We just cannot be brought back to the brink of destruction.
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1. What two main topics did President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discuss during their meeting at the White House on Monday?
2. a) Why did President Obama press Prime Minister Netanyahu to do?
b) What argument did the President use?
3. What comments did President Obama make regarding Israel in an earlier interview with Bloomberg View?
4. What did Prime Minister Netanyahu say Israel wants and what did he say his government wants Palestinian President Abbas to do?
5. Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted on numerous occasions that for a peace deal to be signed with the Palestinians, they must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. President Abbas has refused to do so on numerous occasions.
a) Do you think the Israelis are justified in demanding that the Palestinians acknowledge this before a peace deal is signed? Explain your answer.
b) 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. Do you think there could be a real peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians if Hamas continues to control the Gaza Strip? Explain your answer.
6. Despite the Obama administration’s push for negotiations, Iran continues to work to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian government on numerous occasions has called for the destruction of Israel. Ask a parent: Do you think President Obama has a solid foreign policy on dealing with Iran? Explain your answer.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ISRAEL:
- The area of modern Israel is small, 8,367 square miles, about the size of New Jersey, and is located roughly on the site of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
- It is the birthplace of the Hebrew language spoken in Israel and of monotheism, first as Judaism and later of Christianity.
- It contains sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- Although coming under the sway of various empires and home to a variety of ethnicities, the area was predominantly Jewish until the Jewish-Roman wars [approximately 70 A.D.] after which Jews became a minority in most regions, except Galilee.
- The region became increasingly Christian after the 3rd century and then largely Muslim from the 7th Century Arab conquest up until the 20th century.
- The area, commonly referred to as the Holy Land or Palestine, became a focal point of conflict between Christianity and Islam between 1096 and 1291 and from the end of the Crusades until the British conquest in 1917 was part of the Syrian province of first the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and then (from 1517) the Ottoman Empire.
- In the late-19th century, persecution of Jews in Europe led to the creation of the Zionist movement, which was eventually able to win international support for a Jewish-majority state on the site of the ancient kingdoms.
- Following the British conquest of Syria in the First World War and the formation of thePalestinian Mandate, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased and gave rise to Arab-Jewish tensions and a collision of the Arab and Jewish nationalist movements.
- Israeli independence in 1948 was marked by massive immigration of Jews from both Europe [many who were survivors of the Holocaust] and the Islamic world to Israel, and of Arabs from Israel leading to extensive conflict with the Arab League.
- About 42% of the world’s Jews live in Israel today.
- Since about 1970, the United States has become the principal ally of Israel.
- In 1979 an uneasy peace was established with Egypt, based on the Camp David Accords and in 1993 peace treaties were signed with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yassar Arafat] and in 1994 with Jordan.
- However, conflict with the Arab states and the Palestinians, many of whom live in Israel itself or in territory occupied by Israel after the 1967 war, continues to play a major role in Israeli (and international) political, social and economic life. (from wikipedia)
IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM:
- Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs. [NOTE ON URANIUM ENRICHMENT: Enriched uranium is a critical component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to monitor and control enriched uranium supplies and processes in its efforts to ensure nuclear power generation safety and curb nuclear weapons proliferation (buildup).]
- Under the United Nations’ NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
- Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
- The IAEA has consistently stated it is unable to conclude that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
- The IAEA issued a report on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
- The U.N. Security Council has already imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance. Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
- A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued in May 2009 that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that. The study, published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute, also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.”
- The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.
- Read about the British Mandate in Palestine at wikipedia.
- Read about the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbors including Egypt, Jordan and Syria at sixdaywar.org/index.asp.
Vastly outnumbered and surrounded, Israel won control of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.
- For more info, visit the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs at: jcpa.org/article/the-palestinian-un-upgrade-setting-things-straight
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