WASHINGTON – In the cacophonous response to US President Barack Obama’s
prescription for moving forward in the peace process on Thursday, in which angry
voices could be heard from Jerusalem to Jeddah, there was one realm in which his
words were warmly welcomed.
The Quartet – EU, US, UN and Russia – on
Friday issued a statement lauding Obama’s template, which included a call for
negotiations to be held with the 1967 lines and mutually agreed land swaps as
their basis as well as for talks to address land and security disputes before
moving to other final status issues.
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And that means that despite the
hemming and hawing of the two parties ever since Obama spoke, his pronouncements
might have had a significant impact on one of their most important targets: the
The White House, like the Prime Minister’s Office, wants to
prevent the Palestinians from going to the UN to seek a unilateral declaration
of statehood in September, since both countries see that as counterproductive to
the only route to a sustainable peace – a negotiated agreement.
So the US
feels it not only needs to offer sweeteners to the Palestinians to come back to
the negotiating table, but also assurances to the Europeans that there’s an
alternative path for progress on the peace process. To that end, Obama’s
rhetoric hit the right notes on the other side of the Atlantic.
members of the Quartet are in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve
the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” read the statement put out by
the group. “To that effect, the Quartet expressed its strong support for the
vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by US President Barack
It particularly noted its concurrence that “moving forward on the
basis of territory and security provides a foundation for Israelis and
Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict.”
concluded, “The Quartet reiterates its strong appeal to the parties to overcome
the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or
In a conference call with Jewish leaders on Thursday –
many of who were irate at the president’s statements – new White House Middle
East advisor Steve Simon tried to reassure them by spelling out this
Simon warned of a coming “train wreck” due to the Palestinians’
intention to go before the UN, according to participants on the off-the-record
call who requested anonymity.
The Europeans are seen as crucial because
they are the one bloc of countries most in play at the UN, and they would lend
moral and political authority to a non-binding General Assembly resolution
declaring statehood if they supported it. Arab and non-aligned countries are
expected to back the measure in any case, giving it the majority it needs to
The Europeans, according to Simon, are sympathetic to Israel and
willing to side with its position if they see another way forward. The speech on
Thursday was therefore positioned as a way to provide that alternative,
according to listeners on Simon’s call.
However, skepticism remains in
the pro-Israel community over the intention behind – let alone effect of –
Obama’s speech. And others who would like to see progress on bringing the
parties to the negotiating table have questioned how Obama’s vision could be
implemented at a time when the two sides are so far apart.
off-record conference call on Friday with another coalition of groups, Ben
Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, did not
indicate there was a US effort underway to try to avert a Palestinian appeal to
the UN, but did say that the direct negotiations were the only viable path,
according to several people on the call.
To that end, the US would begin
consulting with the Quartet and other partners about how to move things forward
in the coming weeks.
Though some observers have pointed out that Obama’s
speech did not mention any concrete action involving the two parties, his
presentation was delivered ahead of the trip he and US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton will be making to Europe this week.
coordinating with them through the Quartet and on a bilateral basis over the
course of the last several months,” Rhodes said of US conversations with the EU
over the peace process, in a briefing with reporters on Friday previewing his
“I certainly expect that President Obama will have an
opportunity to discuss Middle East peace, to discuss his statements yesterday
that the basis and foundation for successful negotiations should begin with
territorial security to include the 1967 borders plus swaps as a basis on
territory, and to include affirmation and assurances related to Israel’s
If the road to peace in Jerusalem runs through Brussels, this
trip will be a productive place for Obama to take his serenade.