WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Washington that he would put pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "to make tough decisions," a top U.S. official told Haaretz.
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The official said Obama told Netanyahu he would ask Abbas during a March 17 meeting at the White House to accept the framework agreement Kerry is formulating and to agree to extend the deadline for talks until the end of 2014.
According to the official, the conversation between Obama and Netanyahu went well without tension or confrontation. He said the main topic of discussion was the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"The president did not lecture Prime Minister Netanyahu but told him there is now an opportunity to make progress with the Palestinians," the official said.
According to the official, Obama's message to Netanyahu behind closed doors was similar to what he said in front of cameras before the meeting.
"The president told Netanyahu the framework agreement would benefit Israel since it would let the negotiations continue and because Israel could influence the details of the agreement," he said. "The president also told Netanyahu that now is the time to make decisions."
One of the topics Obama raised with Netanyahu was the opportunities and benefits Israel would gain from making progress in the peace talks.
Officials in the U.S. administration said they were glad Netanyahu brought up the exchange with Obama during his address at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference on Tuesday.
'An end to negotiations'
Top Palestinian officials reacted harshly to the contents of Netanyahu's speech.
Fatah central committee member and former negotiator Nabil Shaath said that Netanyahu's demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish State was tantamount to an “an official announcement of a unilateral end to negotiations,” AFP reported.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said that Netanyahu went to Washington "ready to allocate blame without, in any way, showing any sign of willingness to do the right thing — to stop settlement activities, accept '67 borders, accept signed agreements, end illegal actions and move ahead. Instead, he is reiterating his ideological condition of recognition of a Jewish state."
A senior Israeli official intimately involved in the talks said on Sunday that some of Obama’s top advisers are considering a dramatic all-or-nothing move – setting out an American document with principles for solutions to the core issues. Netanyahu and Abbas will have to say yes or no to it. If the answer is no, the Americans will leave the peace process until the parties agree.