U.S. President Barack Obama stood behind a podium in New York City on Tuesday like a strict schoolteacher scolding the two pupils sitting before him - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - as well as their ministers.
Obama explained that the resolution of the Middle East conflict is in the U.S.'s interest and that a permanent solution is a priority for the entire world. The American president compensated for having failed to immediately revive peace talks with stern remarks directed at both sides: forget history, obstacles and disagreements - sit down and get done with it.
Two major differences were apparent Tuesday between Obama's summit and those hosted by his predecessor, George W. Bush (in Aqaba in 2003 and in Annapolis in 2007). The Bush administration put an emphasis on synchronizing statements and agreements between the two sides. As soon as the summits were over, the Israelis and Palestinians were sent on their way to hold talks on their own - with American supervisors.
However, Obama does it differently. He read his statement as a command directed at the two sides, and not as a joint statement. The president is planning to lead active American mediation efforts, spearheaded by his Middle East envoy George Mitchell. The envoy's first task will be relaunching the peace talks.
In his statement, Obama explained that the Americans are not interested in suggestions raised by Israel - interim agreements which mainly benefit Netanyahu. He also made clear that Washington does not accept Abbas' refusal to enter into talks until Israel completely halts settlement construction. The President is satisfied with Netanyahu's (so far privately made) promises to limit construction, and places the resumption of peace talks at the top of his priority list.
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