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Obama Promised Netanyahu to Pressure Abbas, Says Official

Obama committed to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Palestinians are not "going to get a pass", reveals American official.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/5/2014, 2:14 AM

Netanyahu and Obama at the White House
Netanyahu and Obama at the White House
Flash 90

U.S. President Barack Obama committed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu he would push the Palestinian Authority (PA) to match any Israeli concessions as he seeks to negotiate a framework for peace talks, AFP reported on Tuesday.

A senior Obama administration official told the news agency that the issue of the Israeli-PA peace talks was the dominant topic in the White House meeting between Obama and Netanyahu on Monday.

Despite frank statements on Middle East diplomacy before the meeting from both leaders, the talks were not as contentious as some previous encounters between the two leaders, the official told AFP.

The talks took place as Obama seeks to bridge gaps between Israelis and the PA in a bid to prolong the peace effort led by his Secretary of State John Kerry.

Obama used the meeting to underline how he saw the U.S. peace push as a key opportunity for both Netanyahu and the Israeli people, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Netanyahu made clear to Obama that for the talks to continue, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would have to be prepared to make concessions, AFP reported.

Obama undertook to push the PA leader, who will be in Washington in two weeks, as he had done to Netanyahu, the official told the news agency.

"It's not as though the Palestinians are going to get a pass," the official said.

Kerry has been trying to push the sides to agree to a framework agreement that will allow for the peace talks to continue beyond the set nine-month period, which expires in April.

Few details have been made public of Kerry’s proposed framework, though Thomas Friedman of the New York Times published some alleged details of the plan, which, he said, will call for a phased Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria based on the 1949 lines, with "unprecedented" security arrangements in the strategic Jordan Valley.

The Israeli withdrawal will not include certain settlement blocs, but Israel will compensate the Arab side for this with Israeli territory.

Kerry has admitted that he would require more than nine months to achieve a peace deal, but the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was quick to reject the idea.

"There is no meaning to prolonging the negotiation, even for one more additional hour, if Israel, represented by its current government, continues to disregard international law," Erekat claimed.

Before his meeting with Netanyahu, Obama said bluntly in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that he would make clear to Netanyahu that time was of the essence in the drive to agree on a framework between the parties.

 “When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation,” Obama told Goldberg. “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?”

AFP noted that White House officials have been candid about admitting the differences between Netanyahu and Obama in the past, but said the tone of Monday's talks was not unfriendly.

"It was not a confrontational meeting, it was not a difficult meeting," the official said.