Peres to Obama: Coalition Will Make It Difficult for Netanyahu to Make Progress in Negotiations

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President Shimon Peres on Thursday told U.S. President Obama that Israel's new coalition would make it hard for Prime Minister Netanyahu to achieve progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Haaretz has learned.

 Obama, who focused on the peace process in his Jerusalem speech Thursday night, has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to hold talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah in order to create conditions for the renewal of negotiations.

Obama and Kerry, an Israeli senior official told Haaretz, view their visits in Jerusalem and Ramallah as an "educational seminar," aimed to test the sides' readiness for negotiations. During his meeting with President Shimon Peres on Wednesday, Obama asked for his input as to the political situation in Israel and Netanyahu's room for maneuver with the current coalition.

Another senior Israeli official said that Peres told Obama that Netanyahu would find it hard to make progress in the peace process, since many coalition members oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. Peres added that Netanyahu would need the support of the opposition parties if he decides to make progress in peace talks. Peres estimated that a majority of Israelis support a significant move in the negotiations with the Palestinians

Obama, who met on Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again on Friday morning and brief him on his talks with Abbas.

Obama and Kerry are willing to devote three to six months in evaluating the situation and determining whether there is an opportunity to break new ground in the peace process. Obama's speech and his declarations at the press conference in Ramallah were meant to prepare the ground for Kerry's mission.

A senior Israeli official said that Kerry, who will return to Israel on Saturday night for another meeting with Netanyahu, is due to return to the area in April, and once again in May.

Kerry does not believe that the U.S. should apply pressure to immediately resume the negotiations. He will shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah, hoping, as a first step, to receive commitments from both sides for trust-building steps that would create an atmosphere for direct talks. Israel will be requested to free prisoners and the Palestinians will be asked to refrain from appealing to the international court in The Hague.

President Obama on Thursday clarified in Ramallah that as opposed to his position during his first term in the White House, he does not support the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze as a precondition for renewal of negotiations. Obama told the Palestinians that such a freeze would cause political problems in Israel and that "it cannot be attained immediately." The U.S. President stressed that the renewal of talks leading to solutions concerning borders and security would naturally bring a solution to the problem of further building in the settlements. According to an Israeli source, the U.S. administration hopes that if the talks are renewed, it could bring Netanyahu to freeze settlements at a later stage.

Kerry is interested in forming a coalition of Middle East states including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States that would support a renewal of the peace process. The Secretary of State will try to convince these states to ratify the Arab Peace Initiative in the next meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers and implement moves for normalization with Israel.

According to the March 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, Arab states would establish diplomatic relations with Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders.

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israel's President Shimon Peres during an official state dinner in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013.Credit: Reuters