Obama Will Call on Netanyahu to Take Steps Against Slipping Toward One-state Solution

At press briefing, top White House advisers refuse to say whether steps include settlement construction freeze, but stress continued expansion isn't consistent with two-state solution.

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Obama and Netanyahu at the White House, 2011.
Obama and Netanyahu at the White House, 2011.Credit: AP

U.S. President Barak Obama will encourage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take steps to prevent Israel and the Palestinians from moving toward a one-state solution during their meeting at the White House next Monday, the president's senior advisers said at a press briefing Thursday night. 

The president's senior adviser on the Middle East, Rob Malley, said at the briefing that Obama reached the conclusion that in his time left in office the Israelis and the Palestinians will not be able to reach a peace treaty and it's doubtful that they will be able to resume direct talks on a permanent agreement. According to him, Obama will still want to hear from Netanyahu what he is willing to do to reach some sort of progress in the current situation. 

"The main thing the president would want to hear from Netanyahu is that without peace talks how does he want to move forward to prevent a one-state solution, stabilize the situation on the ground and to signal he is committed to the two-state solution," Malley said.

Malley noted that Obama will want to hear from Netanyahu what trust-building steps he is willing to take in order to "leave the door open for a two-state solution." According to him, these must be steps that will clarify that for Israel the two-state solution remains the only way forward facing the Palestinians. "The onus is on the Israelis and Palestinians to say what they are willing to do Not only safeguard the possibility of the two-state solution in the future but to show there are ways to move there," Malley said. 

Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, also said at the briefing that despite the inability to reach a peace deal, Obama "thinks there is urgency for moving in the direction of the two-state solution."

Malley and Rhodes refused to say outright whether one of the steps Obama wants Netanyahu to take is a freeze on settlement construction, but stressed that the continued expansion of the settlements does not correspond with the two-state solution. "We said for some time that we expect from both parties to show that they are committed to a two-state solution. We would expect they take steps that are consistent with that," Malley said. Rhodes added that settlement construction harms trust and complicates the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. "This is not constructive," he said. 

In his speech last week at the Knesset session marking former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, Netanyahu said that Israel will take steps to "reduce friction" even without a Palestinian partner for a permanent deal. Netanyahu didn't elaborate on which steps he means. "We'll take steps even without a partner for a real agreement," Netanyahu said. "Steps to reduce friction, to bring reconciliation closer, to promote economic development, at the same time with a determined battle against terror. We're doing it, in many known and unknown ways, while also trying to coordinate with countries in the region."  

Observers noted that Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset was the first time since taking office in 2009 that he had hinted at Israel taking unilateral steps in the West Bank or implementing interim arrangements in the absence of a Palestinian partner to a permanent agreement.

But a senior official stressed after the speech that the prime minister had referred to continuing his efforts to establish contacts with moderate Arab countries, rather than to any Israeli moves in the territories.