Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said upon arriving in the United States on Monday that for peace in the Middle East to take hold, the Palestinians must demonstrate their desire to reach a solution.
"The tango in the Middle East needs at least three," Netanyahu said. "For years there have been two -- Israel and the US. Now it needs to be seen if the Palestinians are also present. In any case, in order for us to have an agreement, we must uphold our vital interests. I have proven that I do so, in the face of all pressures and all the turmoil, and I will continue to do so here as well."
America’s ability to “manage the international fallout is going to be limited” if Israel does not strike a peace deal with the Palestinians and there is “continued aggressive settlement construction,” US President Barack Obama said in an interview published on the eve of his Monday meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Washington’s inability to manage this fallout will have consequences, Obama said in the interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg that appeared Sunday.
“In today’s world, where power is much more diffuse, where the threats that any state or peoples face can come from non-state actors and asymmetrical threats, and where international cooperation is needed in order to deal with those threats, the absence of international goodwill makes you less safe,” Obama said. “The condemnation of the international community can translate into a lack of cooperation when it comes to key security interests. It means reduced influence for us, the United States, in issues that are of interest to Israel. It’s survivable, but it is not preferable.”
Asked whether Israel’s settlement policy will impact on the way the US will deal with Israel and Palestinian-related questions at the UN, or on US aid to Israel, Obama said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security “is not subject to periodic policy differences. That’s a rock-solid commitment and it’s one that I’ve upheld proudly throughout my tenure.”
He said that the “affection that Americans feel for Israel,” as well as the bond and bipartisan support will not be affected. “So it is not realistic nor is it my desire or expectation that the core commitments we have with Israel change during the remainder of my administration or the next administration.”
Obama, who said US Secretary of State John Kerry reports to him almost weekly about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and occasionally asks for direction, stopped short of saying that the current diplomatic efforts were “the last chance” for a peace deal.
But, he said, “with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept.”
He said this was partly because of changes in demographics, partly because of the settlement policy and partly because of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s age.
“We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like,” Obama said.
Obama, who has had a famously rocky relationship with Netanyahu, said the prime minister was smart, tough, a great communicator and a “very skilled politician.”
“And I take him at his word when he says that he sees the necessity of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think he genuinely believes that,” Obama said, adding that he believes Netanyahu needed to “seize the moment.”
“When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?” he said.
More so than Obama, Kerry – in an interview Sunday with NBC’s Meet the Press – placed more of the burden for moving the process forward on Abbas.
He said that the Netanyahu- Obama meeting was not going to be a “showdown or anything.”
Responding to a question about whether this was “a moment of truth” for Netanyahu, Kerry replied that “everybody has to act.”
“He’s been very courageous,” Kerry said of Netanyahu, whom he will meet Monday morning before Netanyahu meets Obama. “And he’s made tough decisions with respect to entering into these negotiations and some of the things that he’s indicated he’s willing to do in the negotiations.
“It’s also up to Abbas. The Palestinians need to decide whether or not they’re prepared to compromise,” he said, “whether or not they’re willing to do some of the things necessary.”
Kerry, who had what has been widely reported as two difficult meeting with Abbas in Paris two weeks ago, said “this is not a burden exclusive to one party or the other.”
In addition to meeting Obama and Kerry on Monday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Vice President Joe Biden as well as the House and Senate leadership.
Before leaving for his five-day trip to the US, during which he will speak to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference and spend two days in California, Netanyahu said that Israel has successfully withstood strong pressure over the last few years, and will continue to do so.
“I am leaving for an important trip to the US,” Netanyahu said before boarding the plane. “I will meet President Obama, and we will discuss Iran and the diplomatic process. I will stand firm on Israel’s vital interests, first and foremost security.”
In recent years, Netanyahu said, “Israel has come under various pressures, and we deflected them in the face of the unprecedented storm and unrest in the region. We maintained stability and security. That is what has been and what will be.”