Obama to Sarkozy: I'll keep up pressure on Israel, Palestinians
Western diplomat: Obama skeptical of Netanyahu's ability and willingness to advance peace process.
U.S. President Barack Obama has told French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he is determined to keep the pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace talks and implement confidence-building measures. Obama made his comments despite potential political damage at home ahead of the mid-term congressional elections in November.
According to a Western diplomat familiar with the details of the Sarkozy-Obama meeting two weeks ago in Washington, Obama said the administration's latest moves were not meant to cause a crisis with Israel, but to create an atmosphere that would allow the peace process to proceed. Obama made clear that he was pressuring both Israel and the Palestinians.
However, Obama said he was skeptical about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ability and willingness to advance the peace process. The source said the U.S. president was disappointed that Netanyahu was unwilling to distance himself from his right-wing governing coalition.
Obama said he was aware that he was paying a political price domestically for pressuring Israel, especially in relations with the Jewish community. But he added that he was willing to do so.
Republicans have criticized Obama for pressuring Israel since Netanyahu's visit to Washington a few weeks ago. Evidence of political pressure on Obama includes a letter signed by 76 Republican and Democratic senators sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The letter was backed by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC; its lead signatories were Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Senator Johnny Isakson. The senators said that differences of opinion between Israel and the United States "are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits long-standing strategic allies."
They also wrote that the Palestinians were the ones refusing to renew talks and were setting preconditions despite Israeli gestures.
Israel's forum of seven senior ministers discussed the U.S. administration's demands twice this week. Another meeting may be held on Thursday. Since Israel has not yet responded to the demands, no date has been set for the next visit by special U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
"We still have nothing to say, so he is not coming," a senior government source in Jerusalem said. "We are still working on responses that will be acceptable to all sides."