Obama presses Abbas to help break stalemate

Both sides of Israeli-Palestinian divide must take political risks, says US president

Mahmoud Abbas with Barack Obama at the White House. The Palestinian leader acknowledged that time was running out for Middle East negotiation. EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Mahmoud Abbas with Barack Obama at the White House. The Palestinian leader acknowledged that time was running out for Middle East negotiation. EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 01:00

President Barack Obama yesterday pressed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to help break the stalemate in US-brokered peace talks with Israel, saying leaders on both sides must take political risks before an April deadline.

In White House talks overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, Mr Abbas acknowledged that time was running out for Middle East negotiations and called on Israel to proceed with the release of a final group of Palestinian prisoners by the end of March to show it is serious about peace efforts.

Mr Obama, who met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago, made clear that he was not giving up on the faltering peace process, despite widespread pessimism about reaching a “framework” deal to extend talks beyond an April 29th deadline.

“It’s very hard,” Mr Obama said, with Mr Abbas sitting beside him in the Oval Office. “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 Mr Netanyahu’s demand that Mr Abbas explicitly recognise Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians have refused, saying such a concession would destroy their own narrative for nationhood.


Legitimacy
Without acknowledging Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people, Mr Abbas reminded Mr Obama that Palestinians have accepted the “legitimacy” of Israel since 1988, and in 1993 “we recognised the state of Israel.”

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 in future negotiations.

Making a foray into Middle East diplomacy after a failed first-term peace effort, Mr Obama insisted that, after decades of on-off negotiations, the likely contours of any final peace agreement are well known.

“Everybody understands what the outlines of a peace deal would look like, involving a territorial compromise on both sides based on ‘67 lines with mutually agreed-upon swaps that would ensure that Israel was secure but would also ensure that the Palestinians have a sovereign state,” he said. – (Reuters)