US President Barack Obama speaks at the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony, organised by Yad Vashem, at Israel's Embassy in Washington January 27, 2016.
Amid uncertainty over what Middle East steps US President Barack Obama may take in the twilight of his presidency, Jerusalem – according to government officials – expects him to stay true to what he said at the UN in 2011: “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations.”
This issue was among those Prime Minister Benjamin discussed at his home in Caesarea on Sunday with a blue-ribbon, bipartisan delegation of high-ranking former national security officials. The visit comes amid speculation of what Obama has planned for the Middle East in the twomonth interregnum between the elections on November 8 and when he formally leaves office on January 20.
Speculation is rife that the US president will want to leave some kind of Mideast marker before leaving office, with options ranging from delivering a speech laying down what he believes should be the parameters of any final peace deal, to either supporting or not vetoing a new UN resolution on the Mideast that would supplant UN Security Council Resolution 242 that has underpinned all peace efforts since 1967.
Israel’s concern is that any of these moves might be used to try and impose a solution on the conflict from the outside.
Government officials have in recent days highlighted Obama’s 2011 speech to the UN General Assembly, which at the time was debating the issue of Palestinian statehood.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” he said. “Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”
One official said that this speech was Israel’s “reference point” regarding possible Obama moves in the coming months. “That speech was clear and unequivocal, and hopefully there will not be any surprises,” the official said.
Veteran Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross, who was part of the delegation that met with Netanyahu on Sunday, said earlier this month at a Washington conference that he did not believe the “administration will make a big effort at the Security Council,” because it realizes this could make things worse.
Instead, Ross said it was likely Obama will deliver a Middle East speech, but added, “presidents giving speeches at the end of a term frankly don’t have that big of an impact on anybody.”
The delegation that met Netanyahu included a number of national security and Middle East experts who have worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and some of whom may be called upon to serve in various capacities by the next US president.
In addition to coming to Israel, the delegation also went to Saudi Arabia, where it met with King Salman, and to Turkey and the Palestinian Authority.
Other members of the delegation included James Jeffrey, a senior diplomat whose former posts have included stints as the US ambassador to Iraq and to Afghanistan; Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as Washington’s envoy to Iraq and to the UN under president George W. Bush: Philip Gordon, who served from 2013 to 2015 as Obama’s Mideast coordinator; Robert Danin, a veteran diplomat who from 2008 to 2010 headed the Jerusalem office of the Quartet under Tony Blair; and Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security adviser under Bush on Iran and Afghanistan.
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