Obama Warns Abbas: ‘Start Talks or Else’
A secret 36-page memo based on Obama administration statements indicates that the president warned Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to start direct talks with Israel or risk losing American support for the recognition of the PA as a country.
The Associated Press reported it has possession of the document, under the letterhead of the Palestinian Negotiations Department, and that it indicates the warning came from President Barack Obama via U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
It shows that the Obama administration has resigned itself to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remaining head of Israel's coalition government. “Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not in political danger of being replaced,” the document states.
It adds that Abbas is under pressure from both the Arab world and within the PA, whereby his consent to direct talks with Israel would be “political suicide” for him. However, the document warns, “Abbas needs to accept direct talks now if he wants President Obama’s help in facilitating statehood.” The memo says that PA advisors are in favor of rejecting the American ultimatum.
Abbas told PA media on Sunday that he is resisting pressure from “the entire world” to concede his long-stated condition that Netanyahu extend the 10-month building freeze that expires in late September.
Senior Cabinet ministers as well as the Prime Minister have clearly stated they will not extend the freeze. Political support for the coalition is strong, with even the center-left Israeli media generally recognizing that the PA keeps adding on new condition for direct talks.
Abbas has in effect insisted on acceptance of a proposed PA state without negotiations on any substantial issues, such as the status of Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Abbas have been blaming each other for the failure to sit down for direct talks. “We have negotiated with Israeli governments before, more than once. Why would we avoid such talks? We are not,” Abbas told reporters after discussions with King Abdullah in Jordan. However, his conditions make that a non starter.
Prime Minister Netanyahu repeated on Monday his oft-stated declaration that he is ready meet Abbas immediately without pre-conditions. "We have an understanding with the Americans that we need to move now, without any delay, to direct negotiations, but in response, we have a clear Palestinian attempt to avoid this process," Netanyahu said. "They are trying to stall and to sneak away from direct negotiations and to cause the Arab League to shackle the talks." He had made Abbas' intransigence the focus of his remarks on his recent trip to Washington, putting the ball for non negotiations squarely in the PA court and apparently getting Obama to agree.
The secret memo from Washington indicates clearly that President Obama has given up on pressing Israel for any more concessions, which Jerusalem has made on a regular basis since the Roadmap Plan was announced by former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002.
The memo puts the Palestinian Authority in the unaccustomed position of having to compromise or “going for broke” by continuing its previously announced strategy of waiting for the United States to declare the PA as a new Arab country within Israel’s borders.
State Department officials would not confirm the exact language of the memo, but said, "This indeed illustrates where we are."
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the memo is not entirely accurate, but confirmed that American officials told Abbas that he has to sit down with Israel “if he wants Obama to help.”