Netanyahu: US to present new plan

In US, PM says Palestinians must recognize Israel a Jewish state; Obama demands settlement freeze.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENTS
May 18, 2009 18:24
Netanyahu: US to present new plan

obama and netanyahu 248.88. (photo credit: )

 
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Following his highly-anticipated meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House, and after a 30-minute press conference, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a special briefing to Israeli reporters late Monday night, and told them that the president planned to formulate a new Middle East peace initiative which would be presented soon. The prime minister termed the plan "interesting," and said that it would involve not just the Palestinians and Israelis, but also a number of moderate Arab states. "I found that the president was very receptive to our position that as part of the peace process, Israel would not only give but receive," he said. The premier expressed confidence that Israel maintained the right to defend itself from the threat of a nuclear Iran, telling reporters that there were no green, red or yellow lights from the US, but rather a shared sense that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capacity. Speaking alongside Netanyahu at the Oval Office earlier in the day, Obama stressed the importance the US attached to Israeli security and its recognition of how the Jewish state perceives the threat from Teheran, even as he defended his policy of engagement. Obama rejected the notion of "artificial timelines" in negotiations with Iran, which he indicated he expected would begin in earnest after the Iranian election on June 12 and could subsequently expand to include direct talks between Washington and the Islamic republic. At the same time, he stressed that "we're not going to have talk forever" and allow Teheran to develop a nuclear weapon while negotiations go on, offering that "we'll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year." He also noted that "we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious." Israel has been pushing for a timeline on the United States's diplomatic efforts out of concern that Iran could use the talks to run out the clock. The notion of a timeline was just one subject where differences were expected to emerge between the two leaders as they sat down for their first meeting as respective heads of government in a visit deemed crucial for determining the contours of their relationship and personal rapport. The policy differences were clear, with Obama emphasizing the importance of a "two-state solution" and an end to settlement growth even as Netanyahu made no reference to an independent Palestinian country. Instead, the prime minister spoke of the possibility of a "two peoples to live side by side in security and peace" if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state and agreed to an end of conflict. Both men positively described the encounter, which was repeatedly prolonged to give the two more time together; their one-on-one meeting lasted for an hour and 45 minutes. Netanyahu declared a desire to restart negotiations with the Palestinians immediately, saying, "We don't want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the State of Israel." He also noted that "there'll have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We're ready to do our share." The talks, which Obama described as "extraordinarily productive" and Netanyahu called friendly, went on for much longer than the time the American president has usually devoted to foreign leaders this year. Israeli officials took this as a good sign. Asked about reports in the media that Israel felt progress on Iran needed to be linked to progress with the Palestinians, Obama explicitly rejected the formulation, saying, "If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way: To the extent that we can make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat." But he added that both issues needed to be addressed independently on their own merits. And Netanyahu, with Obama nodding along, said each issue could be helpful in reaching a positive conclusion on the other, but that there was no "policy linkage." Netanyahu also thanked Obama for his willingness to keep all options on the table when it comes to Iran. And following the meeting with Obama, he told the Israeli media that he sensed a seriousness in the new American administration to push the Arab states to take meaningful steps toward peace with Israel that he had not seen before. In his remarks to the press, Obama said "there is a recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution, [and] gain additional legitimacy and credibility with their own people, and delivering services." He also said, "The other Arab states have to be more supportive and be bolder in seeking potential normalization with Israel." But he cautioned Israel that it would have to make difficult steps, too, including improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and stressed that "there is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward." Obama also said that the situation in Sderot was unacceptable, and that he'd seen the situation there himself. During that visit, during his electoral campaign over the summer, he first met with Netanyahu, though Monday was their first tete-a-tete as leaders of their respective countries. Obama also noted it wasn't the first time Netanyahu had come to the White House as prime minister, perhaps warning him about the possible mistakes that could come from sour US-Israel relations such as those the prime minister once experienced with US president Bill Clinton in his bid to coax him toward the peace process. "I'm confident that he's going to seize this moment and the United States is going to do everything we can to be constructive, effective partners in this process," Obama said of Netanyahu. Jpost.com staff contributed to this report

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