Obama Urges Netanyahu to Speed Up Peace Talks With Palestinians

U.S. president tells PM that for negotiations to yield results, core issues must be seriously discussed; Palestinians claim Israel has not even agreed talks be based on 1967 borders with land swaps.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accelerate peace negotiations with the Palestinians and to start seriously discussing core issues, among them borders, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

A senior U.S. official told Haaretz that apart from Iran's nuclear program, Netanyahu and Obama discussed at length the progress of Israeli-Palestinian talks. The U.S. president told the prime minister that he appreciates the difficult decisions Netanyahu took to resume negotiations, especially the release of long-time Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

During the meeting at the White House, Obama spoke with Netanyahu about his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. During their meeting, Abbas asked for a more active U.S. role in talks with Israel.

According to Palestinian officials, Abbas expressed his frustration with the lack of progress in the peace talks. They said the sides have yet to seriously discuss the borders of a future Palestinian state and Israel's security arrangement demands – two core issues they decided to focus on first.

The Palestinians claim that the Israeli negotiating team presented only a general position and did not even agree that the talks be based on 1967 borders with land swaps.

"President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that for the talks to yield results, they would have to be accelerated toward a serious discussion on the core issues," the U.S. official said. Obama, he added, has emphasized that the talks began some six weeks ago and that if they don't progress, at this rate, the nine-month period allotted for negotiations would run out.

Moreover, the official noted, Obama told Netanyahu that the Palestinians have also taken politically difficult steps to renew talks, like their pledge to freeze unilateral moves at the UN and willingness to return to the negotiating table without a halt to settlement construction in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Still, the official offered reasons for optimism: "The atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians has improved," he said. "Look at the UNGA this year. After we've already grown accustomed to the Palestinians promoting unilateral steps, suddenly there's nothing. Even Abbas' speech wasn't confrontational and aggressive as in previous years. We should take advantage of this dynamic to move forward."

The exchange between the two leaders may indicate that the U.S. is interested, for the first time since Netanyahu took office, in understanding the prime minister's clear position on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu's remarks at the end of the meeting with Obama may hint at the disagreement with the Americans on talks with Palestinians, despite the overall positive atmosphere.

"I remain committed to that peace. And I hope that our efforts… would lead to a secure and lasting peace," Netanyahu said. "We know that for peace to endure, it must be based on Israel’s capacity to defend itself, by itself. And I hope that we can achieve an historic transformation that will give a better future for us and our Palestinian neighbors."

From the White House, Netanyahu headed to the State Department to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, who last spoke with Abbas by phone on Sunday. A substantial portion of the meeting between Kerry and Netanyahu dealt with the need to speed-up peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu also briefed Kerry on his UNGA address where he is expected to discuss the Palestinian issue. The speech will be delivered on Tuesday.

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