Obama presses Netanyahu for movement in Mideast peace talks

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 4, 2014

(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.

Netanyahu shakes hands with Obama as they sit down to meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington

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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