Did Obama Phone Abbas ‘Collect’?

Obama targets Abbas—instead of Netanyahu—in his latest phone diplomacy to convince Abbas to drop conditions and agree to direct talks with Israel.

Tags: Obama
Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 9:58 AM

Obama on the phone
Obama on the phone
Israel news photo: White House

Prime Minister Netanyahu announced candidly while in the USA that he is waiting and willing for direct negotiations without precoditions. That seems to have shifted the focus of  U.S. efforts from monitoring building in Jerusalem to requesting face to face talks from the PA.  U.S. President Barack Obama changed his “phone diplomacy” target Friday, calling Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to push the PA into beginning direct talks with Israel on a new PA state.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been on the receiving end of most of the president’s phone calls to regional leaders in his demands for more Israeli concessions to Abbas to coax him into direct talks. President Obama book-ended his phone call with Abbas with flowery praise for his efforts to bring about the establishment of the PA as a country, but the point of his call was clear: stop dilly-dallying and start talking.

The call came only three days after Prime Minister Netanyahu met with the president at the White House for an 80-minute one-on-one meeting. Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abou Rudeina said that the PA chairman assured President Obama of his commitment "to a peace process that is serious and continuous, and which leads to the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories."

The White House was more open in its recap of the phone call. ”He [President Obama] and President Abbas reviewed ways to advance to direct talks in the near term," according to a statement from the Obama government. The phone call was widely viewed as “reflecting President Obama's ambition, or impatience to some extent, to push Israel and the Palestinians to make peace deal as soon as possible.” Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

President Obama clearly threw the ball into  Abbas’ court several months after Prime Minister Netanyahu surrendered to pressure from Washington. The Israeli leader not only agreed to stop new construction for Jews in Judea and Samaria but also placed an unofficial de facto freeze on new building in parts of Jerusalem claimed by the PA.

Abbas has held out for an official and permanent declaration from Israel that it will stop allowing more building for Jews in the same areas. President Obama previously has not pressured Abbas, but the near-solid opposition in the Israeli coalition government to extending the building freeze apparently has also frozen any American hopes for a new coalition that would include the left of center Kadima party.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has pounded away at the theme that he is ready for direct talks and that the PA is the stumbling block. "I think it's high time to begin direct talks, “the Prime Minister said in Washington last week. “ I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity.”

One sign that Abbas is retreating is his spokesman’s denial that Abbas added more conditions for face-to-face discussions with Israel. Although the conditions were clearly stated to the BBC last week, “Abbas had not drawn up conditions," according to spokesman Abu Rudeineh.

Abbas’ next stop is the Arab League, with which he will consult on how to respond to President Obama. He has drilled into the Arab public that he will stand fast against direct talks without a total building freeze and Israel’s acceptance of the 1949 Armistice lines as the borders of a PA country.