Handshake Launches 3-Way Meeting

The trilateral meeting between US President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA Chairman Abbas began with a handshake, and an admonition.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 21:52

PM Netanyahu, Pres. Obama, PA Chair Abbas
PM Netanyahu, Pres. Obama, PA Chair Abbas
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The tripartite meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas began with a handshake and an admonition by the American leader.

In a choreographed gesture that mirrored similar moves by former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu shook hands with PA Chairman Abbas following remarks to the media by the U.S. president.

Reporters in attendance duly noted it was the first time the two men had ever done so.

The event, which launched the trilateral meeting at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, followed remarks by Obama in which he told journalists that final status talks between Israel and the PA must start -- soon.

"Despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust," Obama said, "we have to find a forward. Permanent negotiations must begin, and begin soon." The American president appeared to be slightly impatient, saying, "It is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations, and time to move forward, time to show the flexibility, common sense and compromise which is necessary to achieve our goals."

Obama made it clear his administration would not back down from the two-state solution. "The United States is committed to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which will result in two states living side by side -- Palestine and Israel." However, he also pointed out that it was "important for the Arab states to take steps to promote peace in the region."

The president said he would be sending U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell back to the region next week to ensure that Israeli and PA leaders would not continue in "the same patterns, taking tentative steps forward, then taking steps back." He also said he has asked Israel and the PA to send its negotiating teams back to Washington D.C. next week. In addition, he said, he is expecting the Secretary of State to "report to him on the status of the negotiations in mid-October. "All of us know this will not be easy," he noted in clipped tones, "but we are here today because it is the right thing to do."

Flanking the prime minister at the meeting were National Security advisor Uzi Arad, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell accompanied the American president, who met separately first with Netanyahu and with Abbas prior to the meeting.

The actual "summit" itself was brief, and apparently lasted only 15 minutes or so. Members of the PA delegation refused to shake hands with Foreign Minister Lieberman as the group entered the room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, an obvious snub that drew no immediate comment from Lieberman's office.

All of the meetings were held on the sidelines of the opening of the U.N. General Assembly which is taking place in New York City throughout the week.