Report: Obama to Take More Active Role in Peace Talks

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) and cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) and cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)

U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing to take a more active role in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and will be leaning on both sides to accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework proposals in time for the April 29 deadline, according to sources in Washington.

In his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday in Washington, Obama will push hard for a deal, according to a report in The New York Times.

“The president wouldn’t want to run any risk that it was the lack of his involvement that would make the difference between success and failure,” explained a senior official.

Obama is expected to apply similar pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when the two meet next month.

American pressure may have brought results already. The Israeli government has unofficially and quietly frozen construction outside the major blocs in Yehudah and Shomron for the past few months, according to Ynet on Thursday.

The report quoted Jordan Valley regional council chief David Elchaiiani saying that  Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit last week informed him that construction projects in the region were being held up by orders from on high.

“We received instruction from policy makers not to advance plans outside what’s found in the blocs,” Mandelblit was quoted as telling Elchaiiani last Monday. “Let’s wait patiently until we return from the United States and then we’ll talk,” he was said to add, in a reference to Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next week.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel denied any such moratorium:

“We will under no circumstances agree to freezing [the construction of] a single home in the Land of Israel,” he said in a statement. “It’s unjust, inappropriate and unethical. The prime minister clearly promised there wouldn’t be any freezes, official or unofficial, and I expect that he will stand by that commitment.”

Meanwhile, Kerry acknowledged on Wednesday that he hopes at best to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a “framework” for a peace agreement by April 29, but that a final deal could take another nine months or more, Reuters said on Thursday.

When Kerry brought the two sides back into negotiations on July 29 after a three-year gap, he said at the time that “our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months.”

“For months now, we’ve been saying we’re trying to get a framework. We have understood what we can get within this time period,” Kerry told reporters in what appeared to be his most explicit admission that a final agreement is not possible by April 29.

“We are trying to get the framework … If we have used these seven months thus far to get an understanding of where the parties are and to be able to shape the final negotiation, then we get into the final negotiation,” Kerry added.

“So I don’t think anybody would worry if there’s another nine months, or whatever it’s going to be, to finish up but that’s not defined yet,” he said.