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Context of 'September 22, 2009: Obama to Netanyahu, Abbas: It Is Time to Resume Mideast Peace Talks'

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” [New York Times, 4/1/2009; Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Saeb Erekat, Avigdor Lieberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel Is Our Home, Obama administration, Tony Blair, Zalman Shoval, Shimon Peres

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, Michael Oren, George Mitchell, Mahmoud Abbas

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells journalists for the Jerusalem Post that President Obama’s maiden UN speech was “good and positive” for Israel. Netanyahu expresses his belief that Obama’s speech stressed the legitimacy of a Jewish state as well as backing Israel’s right to live in security. He says that Obama’s address urged Palestine leaders to restart peace negotiations. “He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions.” In his speech, Obama also addressed threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and spoke strongly against al-Qaeda and terrorism. “All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service,” said Obama. “To break the old patterns—to break the cycle of insecurity and despair—all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security,” he said. “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. The time has come to re-launch negotiations—without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, says Obama’s reference to Israel as a Jewish state is vital recognition on which “Israel insists as part of any final status deal with the Palestinians.” Oren says that Israel “was gratified to hear the president reiterate US commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as pleased that the president supported a multilateral rather than bilateral means for bringing peace between Israel and its neighboring states. Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters that he “listened very carefully to President Obama’s call to the Arab countries to publicly support moving regional peace forward.” He also praises Obama for expressing his appreciation about restrictions that have been eased between Judea and Samaria in the last few months to improve the quality of living and upgrade the economy for the Palestinians in the region. However, Obama also said in his address that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” while simultaneously calling on Palestinians to end provocations against Israel and emphasizing that the settlements issue should not deter talks. [Jerusalem Post, 9/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, United Nations, Israel, Michael Oren

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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