Obama with Netanyahu - Reuters - May 20, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office in Washington, May 20, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Hillary Clinton at the State Department, June 6, 2011. Photo by Reuters

Israeli and Palestinian representatives have been holding separate talks in Washington, as part of an American effort to restart direct negotiations and thereby forestall a Palestinian bid to obtain unilateral UN recognition as a state in September, according to a source at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

Senior American officials met with each side separately in the White House or the State Department, the source said.

Israel is being represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Isaac Molho. The Palestinians sent Saeb Erekat, their former chief negotiator, and Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman.

The source at the Prime Minister’s Office said the Americans had invited both sides to Washington. A few days ago France had offered an initiative to restart peace talks. The United States would apparently prefer to lead this process itself.

An Israeli source who returned from Washington a few days ago said several U.S. Administration officials were urging Obama to invite Netanyahu and Abbas to Washington for talks based on his May 19 speech. In that speech, Obama said that negotiations should be based on borders and security first and on the basis of 1967 lines with agreed land swaps.

The Americans are now trying to determine whether the parties would be willing to resume talks on this basis. But the prevailing assessment in Washington is that the chances are very slim.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was in Washington on Monday to discuss his country’s plan with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But at a joint press conference afterward, Clinton said there was no point in holding a peace conference in France if the parties themselves hadn’t agreed to resume negotiations.

Netanyahu opposes both Obama’s plan and the French one, but he deems the latter worse:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in contrast, told Israel Radio yesterday that Israel should “seriously consider” the French initiative.