The US administration is quietly pressuring the Palestinians to come to
the negotiating table, according to an influential American Jewish
leader and longtime supporter of US President Barack Obama.
According to Alan Solow, chairman of the American Jewish umbrella
organization, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, the Obama administration has learned some lessons from
the mistakes of the past year, primarily “that trying to [pressure the
sides] in public is not a recipe for success. One of the weaknesses of
the [administration’s] approach toward Israel was that the settlement
freeze demand was made publicly, and that put Prime Minister Netanyahu
in a very difficult political position.”
Obama’s popularity ratings have suffered among Israelis due to a
widespread perception in Israel that Obama favored the Palestinian side
in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. But Solow said American leaders
are well aware the Palestinians are the party refusing to talk.
“I don’t think the Americans are asking Netanyahu to do more with
respect to the Palestinians” than the concessions he has already made,
such as the public acceptance of Palestinian statehood and a ten-month
construction freeze in West Bank settlements.
“The administration is pressuring the Palestinians,” he insisted, “but
[it must do so] quietly, without it appearing as though [Palestinian
and Arab leaders] are caving in to American pressure.”
“The administration should continue to acknowledge that the Israelis
are willing to return to the negotiating table and it’s time to tell
the Palestinians they have to do the same, and it’s important to bring
the Arab states into this process to give Abbas the support he needs to
start negotiating,” he said.
Solow spoke to The Jerusalem Post
on the sidelines of the Conference of Presidents gathering in
Jerusalem, an annual event that brings American Jewish leaders to
Israel for briefings and meetings in the country. Over the course of
the gathering this week, the group of some 100 organizational leaders
is hearing from Israel’s president, prime minister, defense minister,
opposition leader and other top officials.
While Solow sought to convey that Obama was working behind the scenes
to jump-start negotiations, an Israeli official gave a more pessimistic
analysis of the current state of the peace process.
“There are question marks in Israel as to whether Abu Mazen [PA
President Mahmoud Abbas] wants negotiations at all,” said Israeli
special envoy to the negotiations Brig.-Gen. Michael Herzog. In the
Israeli view, “Abbas thinks in historical terms. This is his last term
as president. He doesn’t want [to start a process that will] fail.”
To convince the Palestinian leaders to come to the negotiating table,
the US administration “should make clear to the Palestinians that
America will not step forward with an already completed [peace] plan,”
a move that would sidestep negotiations and give the Palestinians the
impression they need not negotiate over the concessions Israel wants,
including recognition of Israel’s Jewishness.
The Arab world, too, “should be encouraged to encourage Abbas to sit
down to negotiate without preconditions. [So far], the Arabs have not
been willing to say anything publicly on this. Privately, they’re
saying to the Americans and to us: ‘We think Abbas’s position regarding
re-launching negotiations is unsustainable, but we still support him.’
It’s a contradictory position,” Herzog said.
Indeed, the Arab states could be more a part of the problem than the solution.
“Next month the Arab League is convening. If by then there are no
bilateral discussions, the Arab nations will go toward the lowest
common denominator [in rejecting negotiations] and tie Abu Mazen’s
hands more,” he warned. “So I don’t think we have much time.”