Obama and PA President Abbas
Obama and PA President AbbasIsrael news photo: Flash 90

U.S. President Barack Obama has put Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on equal diplomatic footing with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, calling him on the phone setting ground rules for “proximity talks” and inviting him to the White House.

No specific date was set for Abbas to visit, but PA leaders previously have said that it will take place this month.

President Obama has phoned Prime Minister Netanyahu several times, once two months ago to deliver a barrage of condemnation on Israel’s allowing construction for Jews in what it refers to as United Jerusalem. He called a second time two weeks ago with a more relaxed conversation intended to lower the tension that has existed between the two leaders.

It was Abbas’ turn on Tuesday, with the president issuing a formal invitation for him to visit the White House and setting down ground rules for the American-mediated talks between the PA and Israel. The Obama government has dubbed the discussions “proximity talks” in an apparent attempt to avoid reference to the failure of the two sides to sit down in the same room.

President Obama “congratulated” Abbas on the start of the talks, reiterated his support for establishing to PA as an independent country and called on him to “do everything he can to prevent acts of incitement or delegitimization of Israel.”  

The PA already is obligated by the now-obsolete American Roadmap plan to stop incitement, and doing so was a condition for negotiations to continue. However, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice skipped over the Roadmap conditions and commitments for prior to advancing the idea of a PA state. The Palestrina Media Watch NGO has provided almost daily evidence of continuing anti-Israel propaganda throughout the PA society, including textbooks and sermons that identify all of Israel as “Palestine.”

President Obama also has laid out ground rules aimed at preventing PA and Israel from accusing each other for any failure in the talks. “The President confirmed his intention to hold both sides accountable for actions that undermine trust during the talks,” according to a White House statement.

The phone conversation was not the first time President Obama called Abbas. After his inauguration more than a year ago, the president’s spokesmen said that Abbas was the first foreign leader he called in his aim to fulfill a promise of “ushering in a new era of peace.”