Obama Wants Israel to Hold Parallel Talks With Palestinians and Syria

U.S. believes breakthrough in peace process between Israel and the Arab states would restrain Tehran's influence.

The Obama administration is preparing a Middle East peace process that will include simultaneous bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Syria. The plan is based on the Arab peace initiative that offers establishing normal relations between Israel and Arab League states in exchange for withdrawing from the occupied territories and establishing a Palestinian state.

The United States will put together a "security package," including demilitarization of the territories from which Israel will withdraw and the option of stationing a multinational force in them for years.

The Obama administration believes that a breakthrough in the peace process between Israel and the Arab states would restrain Tehran's influence and contribute to the diplomatic effort to block Iran's nuclearization.

The regional peace plan will be the focus of President Barak Obama's meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in the White House later this month.

Senior Palestinian Authority officials told Western diplomats Thursday that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will be invited to the White House after the Jordanian king's visit to discuss the Palestinians' participation in the initiative.

Abbas' visit is expected to take place before Obama's first meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But American sources have not confirmed this is so.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is pressing the U.S. administration to adopt the Arab initiative, which began as a Saudi initiative. In an article published some two months ago in the Financial Times, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence and former Saudi ambassador in Washington, wrote that failing to act on this initiative would lead to a reevaluation of Riyadh's relations with Washington.

Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman object to resuming negotiations with the Palestinians on a final-status arrangement. However, Defense Minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak has spoken in closed forums of his support for simultaneous talks with the Palestinian and the Syrians as part of a regional peace agreement and security arrangements.

On the eve of special American envoy George Mitchell's meeting with Abbas, there are increasing pressures among Fatah's leadership to put an end to the negotiations with Israel and demand equal rights for the territories' residents, in view of Israel's refusal to recognize the two-state solution.

Imprisoned Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Qureia, who led the talks with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni following the Annapolis conference, also support this position.

In all his talks in Jerusalem Thursday, Mitchell strongly dismissed the arguments against establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Mitchell is presenting support of a two-state solution as a fundamental condition for the U.S.'s recognition of a Palestinian unity government. Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak support this position.

Mitchell is to meet Abbas, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the head of the PA's negotiation team head, Saeb Erekat, in Ramallah Friday.

The Palestinian leaders will ask the Obama administration to treat Israel as the U.S. treats the Hamas government - total boycott - following Netanyahu's demand Thursday that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu did not mention Israel's agreement to the two-state solution.

Jordan's King Abdullah will meet with President Obama next Tuesday to discuss cooperation toward improving the political and security situations in the Middle East.

Abdullah is the first Arab leader to meet Obama in the White House. The two are expected to discuss cooperation in dealing with various issues in the region, including security, reforms and the Arab peace initiative.

Abdullah is a strong supporter of the Saudi plan. It offers Israel recognition by all Arab states in exchange for withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 war, establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution for Palestinian refugees.