Most of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama this week took place in private, and it centered mainly on the Palestinian issue. This is what Netanyahu told the people he briefed after the meeting.
Netanyahu asked to meet privately with Obama, at the end of the working day, "with jackets off," in an effort to build trust and open a dialogue. He left very pleased, according to his aides, and said the atmosphere reminded him of his first meeting with Obama, two years ago. Obama was then a senator running in the Democratic Party's presidential primary, and Netanyahu was the head of the opposition in Israel. They met in a room at the airport in Washington.
At Monday's meeting, Netanyahu sought to convince Obama that he wants to conduct serious negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to reach a peace agreement. He said that Abbas "must not be written off in advance."
"[Anwar] Sadat was also written off at first," Netanyahu told Obama. "Abbas is at the end of his career, and he will be thinking about what he will leave to his nation."
Netanyahu said that Israeli politicians are urging him to conduct "a process for the sake of process," either merely for the sake of holding negotiations with the Palestinians, or in order to prevent a further outbreak of violence. "I disagree with my colleagues on both sides," Netanyahu said. "We need to try to reach an agreement."
Netanyahu asked Obama to convince Abbas to begin negotiations with him. He expressed understanding for the political difficulties that Abbas found himself in several weeks ago over the Goldstone Report, when he succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure and agreed that the PA would not bring the matter before the United Nations, only to reverse his position. "Leaders need to do the right thing, and Abbas needs to be seen as such a leader," Netanyahu said.
"The absence of a political process would be deadly for the Palestinians and also for us," Netanyahu warned, "because that would strengthen Hamas, which in turn would be a victory for Iran." He and the president also discussed concrete steps that would serve to advance the process. In his speech to the United Jewish Communities' General Assembly in Washington, Netanyahu said that Israel is ready to make great concessions for the sake of peace.
Netanyahu told Obama that any final-status deal with the Palestinians will have to include a solution to the danger posed by the introduction of advanced weaponry into the territories. "It can't be that Israel will be left with a piece of paper while arms smuggling goes on," he said. "We must create security arrangements that will prevent the introduction of weapons across the border."
He pointed to the advanced weapons now possessed by Hezbollah and Hamas, which are not made in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip, but are smuggled in from abroad, and gave as an example the arms seized recently from the freighter Francop. "This is a critical problem, to which an answer must be given," Netanyahu warned. "We suffered rockets twice, from Lebanon and from Gaza, and we do not want to suffer them a third time, in much larger doses."
The prime minister was impressed with Obama's knowledge of the details. According to Netanyahu, there is a major difference between his own image as someone who rejects peace, and his actual stance, and the same is true of Obama's attitude on Iran. Netanyahu praised Obama to his Israeli interlocutors for his efforts to combat the Goldstone Report and the administration's actions against the Iranian threat.
Barak Ravid contributed to this story
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