US President Barack Obama on Monday told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that political risks on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides are necessary if a framework for further peace talks is to be reached by an April deadline.
Meeting at the White House, Abbas acknowledged that time was running out for Middle East negotiations and called on Israel to go ahead with the release of a final group of Palestinian prisoners by the end of March to show it is serious about peace efforts.
Obama, who met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago, made clear that he was not giving up on the faltering US-led peace process despite widespread pessimism about reaching a “framework” deal to extend talks beyond an April 29 deadline.
“It’s very hard,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re able to move it forward, and I hope that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks.”
One of the main stumbling blocks is Netanyahu’s demand that Abbas explicitly recognize Israel as Jewish state. The Palestinians have refused, saying such a concession would destroy their own narrative for nationhood.
Washington has endorsed the Israeli position but says the issue should not be a roadblock to diplomatic progress at this stage and should be dealt with future negotiations.
OBAMA: 'there is an opportunity'
Obama said everyone understands what the contours of a Mideast peace deal would look like—a Palestinian state based on territory captured by Israel in 1967 with “mutually agreed upon swaps” that ensure the security of Israel.
Abbas agreed that a solution should entail a Palestinian state built on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Netanyahu has declared that Israel would never return to earlier lines it considered indefensible and regards Jerusalem as indivisible.
Facing pressure from his own people to hold the line on concessions, Abbas told reporters at the start of the talks, “We don’t have any time to waste.”
Will Israel carry out agreed prisoner release?
Looming over the peace effort is the question of whether Israel this month will carry out the release of a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, to which it agreed in order restart negotiations last year. US officials fear that if Israel scraps the release, peace talks could break down.
Secretary of State John Kerry brought Israel and the Palestinians back into negotiations on July 29 after a three-year gap. At the time, he said the target was to achieve a “final status agreement” within nine months.
US officials have scaled back their ambitions, saying they are now trying to forge a non-binding “framework for negotiations” by then. But the two sides do not appear to have made much visible progress on narrowing their differences.
While Netanyahu has asserted that Abbas has not done his part, the Palestinians point to Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank as the main obstacle to peace.
Abbas faces pressure at home not to agree to any loosely worded accord that would simply prolong negotiations, with no clear end in sight.
Although the terms under discussion for the framework accord have not been published, Palestinians say early indications suggest they will be offered less than what former US president Bill Clinton laid out in 2000 in the so-called Clinton Parameters.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-17