Obama and Israel
Obama and Israel Israel news photo

 

U.S. President Barack Obama has sidestepped a chance to back Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinian Authority call Israel a Jewish State, but he told reporters that the Prime Minister should accept Abbas’s demand and extend the building freeze for four more months.

The freeze on building Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria, and the issue of Israel’s being a Jewish State, are the major demands that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu have made for direct talks to address the issue of establishing the PA as a new Arab country.

The Prime Minister told the Cabinet Sunday morning, "I hear about two states, but I don't hear two peoples."

In a press conference Friday, President Obama directly told reporters that Israel should meet Abbas' demand but ignored the Israeli demand, stated in a reporter's comment that  “Abbas…said the Palestinians won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” The reporter continued, “The question is, if these talks fail at an early stage, will this administration disengage?  Or maybe you’re ready to step up and deepen your personal involvement.”

President Obama did not refer to the “Jewish State” issue except to clearly imply that its definition depends on Israel’s surrendering all of the areas restored to the country in the Six-Day War in 1967.

In a reply to another question if Israel "should extend the settlement moratorium as a gesture to peace," President Obama commented that “it makes sense [for Israel] to extend that moratorium," which is due to expire September 26.

Israel has reasoned that the freeze originally was offered to meet Abbas' condition to sit down with Israel for direct talks, but that he has balked and his time runs out in three weeks. President Obama implicitly justified the PA’s refusal, saying that “the Palestinians were very skeptical. They said this doesn’t do anything. And it turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s credit and to the Israeli government’s credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that's why now the Palestinians say, you know what, even though we weren’t that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us.

“And if you can get [an] agreement, then you can start constructing anything that the people of Israel see fit in undisputed areas.

President Obama also specifically stated that he knows extending the freeze makes “the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu…very difficult [because] there are a number of members of his coalition who’ve said, 'We don’t want to continue this.'”

The only demand he made from Abbas was that he sit down with Israel for discussions, which Abbas has said are not open for any negotiations on the PA demands for total sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the Temple Mount and all parts of Jerusalem that were under the Jordanian occupation between 1949 and 1967.

The president maintained, “I’ve said to President Abbas you’ve got to show the Israeli public that you are serious and constructive in these talks so that the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu -- if he were to extend the settlements moratorium -- would be a little bit easier."

President Obama also claimed that the discussions between Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington last month “exceeded a lot of people’s expectations. What they said was that they were serious about negotiating. They affirmed the goal of creating two states, living side by side in peace and security.  They have set up a schedule where they’re going to meet every two weeks.”

However, PA spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudaineh told the Arabic language A-sharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the meeting only was “to explore the positions” and did not deal with any core issues, such as the status of Jerusalem.

Concerning defining Israel as “Jewish” country, he stated, “[Abbas] has repeatedly defined the Palestinian position by saying that there is a letter of mutual recognition between the PLO and the Israeli Government. We are not interested in what Israel calls itself. We are only interested in the letter of mutual recognition between the PA and the Israeli government."