Barack Obama Tells Haaretz: Two States for Two Peoples

If elected, Barack Obama has no intention of wasting time on consolidating an "Obama peace plan." He would rather dive in and promote the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of existing American initiatives, associates of the U.S. presidential hopeful said Wednesday during his visit to Israel.

"I believe the next U.S. administration should move quickly," Obama told Haaretz.

"I have had in-depth discussions today with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and encouraged all of them to make as much progress as they can in their negotiations this year," the presumptive Democratic Party nominee added. "The next U.S. administration should... help the parties build on the progress that has been made thus far, and continue to work toward the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security."

One of Obama's senior consultants on the Middle East said that what Obama told Haaretz demonstrates the senator's determination to allay fears - or hopes - that if he is elected Obama would shelve the Israeli-Palestinian issue and place it at the bottom of his foreign policy agenda.

Projections to that effect by various political commentators were based on the assumption that Obama might opt to deal first with the Iranian issue and the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

While Obama would attempt to deepen U.S. involvement in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the consultant elaborated, he would do so on the basis of existing initiatives - the international Quartet's road map for peace and the Annapolis Declaration.

What would change, according to the consultant, is the U.S. distanced position, as the consultant put it, in which Washington monitors developments but generally prefers to refrain from a more hands-on policy.

On the Iranian issue, Obama's statements differ from what Israeli leaders have grown accustomed to hearing from officials in the administration of President George W. Bush.

During his brief visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority Wednesday, Obama told Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he views the peace process between Israel and Syria as very important. When speaking about Tehran's drive to obtain nuclear weapons, Obama reiterated the importance that he attributes to diplomatic pressure.

Commenting on Obama's recent statements about his support for a "united Jerusalem", presumably under Israeli control, a senior Palestinian official Wednesday told Haaretz that he advises against taking what presidential hopefuls tell Jewish voters too seriously.