Obama to PA: Forget About Preconditions, Building Freeze
While the United States believes that the Palestinian Authority is ready for statehood, and that PA leaders would be successful stewards of an independent state, no progress will be made in negotiations to reach that goal unless “the two sides are willing to think outside the box and get out of some of the old formulas and arguments,” U.S. President Barack H. Obama said at a press conference in Ramallah. While Obama did not spell out exactly what that meant, the president stressed that preconditions in negotiations – especially in their demands that Israel halt all construction in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for negotiations – was out.
“We have to get out of the formula that says that we can't start negotiations until we work out all the details of an agreement in advance,” Obama said in response to a question about whether he had pushed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He had not, Obama told an audience of reporters in Ramallah after he had finished speaking with PA chief Mahmoud Abbas. “Israeli politics are complicated,” Obama said, hinting at the results of Israel's recent Knesset elections. But regardless, preconditions weren't a good idea anyway. “There's no point in negotiating if you've decided everything in advance.”
Obama said that the two state solution was the best way to end the conflict. Obama did not condemn construction in Judea and Samaria, but did say that it was an "obstacle" holding up the peace process. Obama also said that the PA deserved a state, but he did not mention the 1948 armistice lines, as Abbas himself did.
A livid Abbas, for his part, reiterated that without a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, no negotiations could take place, since without predefined borders the PA would not know what it was negotiating for. "The Israelis build everywhere, everyone can see. I don't know who gave them this right," he added.
Obama said he had urged the PA leadership to look beyond the conflict. “Both Israelis and the Palestinians are very entrepreneurial,” he said, and if the two sides could work out their differences, “they could create a major change in the whole region.” Obama said he had been very impressed by his tour of Israeli high-tech accomplishments at the Israel Museum earlier in the day, and he wished that future for the PA as well – but it would only come when the two sides sat down to solve their problems seriously, and in direct talks, Obama added.