The U.S. administration is more attentive to Israel than it is to the Palestinians, President Barack Obama told a visiting delegation of the U.S. Orthodox Jewish community at the White House, Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday.
The meeting comprised White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community, including Dr. Simcha Katz, Rabbi Steven Burg and Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union.
The Israeli daily cited participants in the meeting, who wanted to remain unnamed, that when Obama was asked what lessons he had learned from events related to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he said that there were many possibilities for misunderstanding. There was “only tension because both sides feel pressured to compromise,” he said.
Obama said that he understood that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as any other leader, wanted no restraints.
The U.S. administration had previously warned that the window of opportunity for making peace might not remain open for long. However, during Tuesday’s meeting, Obama expressed hope that progress is still possible, although he admitted that the position of the Palestinians has deteriorated, Haaretz reported.
The U.S. President asked his guests not to doubt his fidelity to this cause and said that he will “keep trying” as “peace is good for Israel.”
Opportunity may not stay on the table
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel on Tuesday to accept a two-state solution, warning that the opportunity “may not stay on the table for a long time,” Reuters reported.
Abbas set out the Palestinian case for statehood and full U.N. membership at a World Economic Forum conference in Istanbul, stressing that membership of the United Nations should not prejudice negotiations with Israel.
“I would like to address our Israeli neighbors and say we are seekers of peace and freedom and our people made a major sacrifice when they accepted establishing their state on less than a quarter of the area of historical Palestine,” Abbas said.
“So do not turn your backs on this opportunity ... this opportunity may not stay on the table for a long time because the region is witnessing rapid developments,” he said.
During the past year popular revolts have ousted Arab autocrats and dictators across North Africa and the Middle East, upset the U.S. foreign policy equation in the region and further isolated Israel.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told the conference the Palestinian issue remained the “the most important problem threatening peace and stability in the region,” and said there was mounting anger with Israel over its policies.
Erdogan became a hero for many Arabs for publicly upbraiding Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009 over the killing of civilians in an offensive on the Palestinian Gaza enclave, and he again highlighted the plight of Palestinians living there under an Israeli blockade.
“People are being held captive in the world’s largest open air prison and at the same time on the other side a large-scale rage is being pumped across the whole region,” Erdogan said.
The Palestinian Authority wants its state firmly in the context of territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War as this would provide clear terms of reference and would mean Israel could no longer call the land “disputed.”
In a dramatic move last September, Abbas submitted a U.N. membership application for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, despite strong opposition from Israel and the United States, which say Middle East peace can come only through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The application was held up at the committee stage, and the Palestinians have not so far requested a formal vote in the Security Council.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations has been the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and Abbas called on U.N. Security Council members to exert pressure on Israel to stop building settlements.
(Written by Abeer Tayel)