Posted by: Martin Fox | May 28, 2009

Abbas meets Obama, pushing Arab peace with Israel

One of the core global cohesion opportunities in the world. So much hope, so much opportunity – yet so many polarizing and dividing issues and emotions on both sides. We hope for a just peace that works for all – the ripple effect around the world will be beyond words.

Peace out –
Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership.

Abbas meets Obama, pushing Arab peace with Israel

By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Talks between President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced new complications Thursday as Israel rejected a U.S. and Palestinian demand that the Jewish state stop settlement construction in the West Bank.
Obama, in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, told the Israeli leader that his government must stop putting up or expanding Jewish housing in the West Bank, land the Palestinians want for a state separate from Israel — the so-called two-state solution.

In the Obama meeting, Netanyahu refused to commit to ending settlement activity and would not sign on to the two-state solution, even though previous Israeli governments had accepted that as part of a “road map” to guide peace negotiations.

The Israeli government’s blunt rejection of the call for ending settlements was issued after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton restated the U.S. position on Wednesday.

Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions,” Clinton said. “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly. … And we intend to press that point.”

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Thursday that “normal life in those communities must be allowed to continue.” He confirmed that this meant some construction will continue in existing settlements.

An end to settlements was a top priority for Abbas as he sat down with Obama Thursday afternoon.

Top Palestinian officials traveling with Abbas said he was working to repackage a 2002 Saudi Arabian plan that called for exchange of land occupied by Israel since the 1967 war in exchange for normalized relations with Arab countries.

Abbas was to hand Obama a five-page proposal that would keep intact the requirement that Israel withdraw from Arab lands captured in 1967 in exchange for a guarantee of peace from all Arab countries, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The Abbas document also calls for a mechanism to monitor a required Israeli freeze on all settlement activity, a timetable for Israeli withdrawal and a realization of a two-state solution.

Obama’s meeting with Abbas is the third of four key sessions the administration had planned as the president tries to reinvigorate the push for Middle East peace, an accord that has eluded American leaders, the Israelis and their Arab neighbors for more than a half-century.

Obama has made brokering peace in that region a top priority but has found Netanyahu a particularly recalcitrant partner.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II opened the round of visits by Middle East leaders on April 21. Talks with President Hosni Mubarak, originally scheduled for Tuesday, were postponed after the unexpected death of the Egyptian leader’s grandson. The two leaders now plan to meet June 4 in Cairo, where Obama plans to deliver a major speech to the Muslim world. On his way to Egypt, Obama plans to meet next Wednesday in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah.

Apparently realizing the difficulties he faces on a bilateral basis with Israel, Abbas will be trying to sell — with the help of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — a more ambitious peace plan that would include benefits to Israel and the larger Arab world.

Obama has appeared open to that approach, one that experts believe can be expanded and built upon given the growing fear of Iran that is shared by Israel and the Arabs.

Arab diplomats said earlier this month that the U.S. had asked the 22-member Arab League to amend the 2002 Saudi initiative so that it would be more palatable to Israel.

“What we are discussing today is a combined approach of bringing together Arabs, Europeans and the United States as a team to create the circumstances over the next several months that allow Israelis and Palestinians to sit at the table, but also with Lebanese, Syrians and Arab nations,” Jordan’s Abdullah said at the time during a conference in Berlin.

All that suggests that Abbas would get a sympathetic hearing from Obama, with some exceptions.

The Palestinian leader is very weak politically, having lost control of the Gaza Strip in a violent takeover by the militant Hamas organization. Abbas also has been unable to remove or diminish the number of Israeli checkpoints that badly interrupt life for Palestinians in the West Bank, a fact that hurts his standing in the territory he still controls. He has made progress, with the help of U.S. trainers, in improving his own security forces against militants in the West Bank still bent on Israel’s destruction. The Israelis want to see far more improvement. Corruption is rampant.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh, traveling with Abbas, contributed to this story.

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