The United States is trying to keep the peace talks going between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called PA President Mahmoud Abbas, asking him not to make good on his threat to pull out of the talks at the end of the month.
Abbas told Clinton that there had been nothing new in the talks, which started two weeks ago.
Two more sessions are to be held in Amman, Jordan between Netanyahu's representative Isaac Molho and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. One is scheduled for January 21 and the other for January 25.
According to both a Western diplomat and a senior Palestinian official, the phone conversation between Abbas and Clinton dealt entirely with the two rounds of talks held so far in Jordan. Clinton asked Abbas not to bow out after January 26, and pledged that the U.S. government would work even harder to bring about a breakthrough between the parties in the coming year.
January 26 is the date the Palestinians see as ending the three-month period that the Quartet gave Israel and the PA to submit their opening positions on borders and security.
The Palestinians submitted their positions and have threatened that if no Israeli response is forthcoming by the end of the month, they will leave the talks and launch a diplomatic and legal campaign against Israel in the United Nations.
Abbas told Clinton that no progress had been made in the two meetings in Amman. "What you and I heard from Netanyahu at his home in Jerusalem in 2010 is exactly what we heard now in Jordan," Abbas reportedly said to Clinton.
Abbas added that if progress was made in the coming two meetings the Palestinians would continue the talks, but if not, "we will discuss it and make a decision."
Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Jordan is to meet on Tuesday with Obama at the White House to discuss ways to keep the talks from falling apart. According to a senior Israeli official, the Jordanians have accepted the Israeli position with regard to the timetable - that January 26 is not set in stone - but the Palestinians have not.
Sources in Israel say that they believe a combination of American pressure and the Jordanian position will keep the Palestinians at the table.
During Obama's phone call to Netanyahu ahead of Abdullah's visit, the president "reaffirmed his commitment to the goal of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region," according to a White House statement.
The White House said Obama and Netanyahu had discussed the talks between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams sponsored by Jordan. "In any agreement with the Palestinians, security arrangements are my top priority," Netanyahu told Obama.
The two leaders also discussed the Iranian nuclear program. Obama said Iran had to be held accountable for not meeting its international obligations regarding uranium enrichment and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Obama also said he was fully obligated to Israel's security, and Netanyahu told the president that Israel's security meant Iran had to be kept from attaining nuclear weapons.
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