US legislator praises Netanyahu

Congressman Berman says the PA must come forward to restart peace talks.

January 26, 2010 02:46
2 minute read.
US legislator praises Netanyahu

Howard Berman 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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A top member of Congress on Sunday defended Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and placed the onus for restarting peace talks on the Palestinians.

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"It is time for Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud] Abbas to come to the negotiating table," declared Howard Berman, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, according to prepared remarks released after his appearance at an Americans for Peace Now (APN) luncheon in his home state of California.

"The United States cannot negotiate on the Palestinians' behalf by proxy, as some have reported President Abbas would like. It would be unfortunate indeed if the Palestinians chose to stay on the sidelines rather than negotiate for the statehood they have long craved," he said.

Abbas has so far refused to negotiate with Netanyahu without there first being a total settlement freeze. Though Netanyahu announced a new-construction moratorium in the settlements in November, that did not satisfy Abbas's demands, particularly because it did not include east Jerusalem.

"We may have done him a disservice by not making clear at the outset of the administration that negotiations should not be linked to a settlement freeze," Berman acknowledged, also noting his high regard for Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's efforts to build Palestinian institutions.

"That said, it is past time for President Abbas to find his way back to the negotiating table. The region needs that, and the Palestinians need that."

In his speech, Berman also praised the moratorium and several other steps Netanyahu has taken, including endorsing a two-state solution and easing movement of Palestinians in the West Bank.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu and his colleagues are the ones who have taken the difficult decisions, and for this they deserve more credit than they get," he said.

"In my view, Netanyahu has demonstrated greater maturity and pragmatism during this, his second prime ministry, than he did in the 1990s. I believe he well understands intellectually what peace requires, and he wants to be a peace-maker."

While Berman backed US President Barack Obama's strong involvement in the peace process, he contended that "A strong US commitment is not adequate for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Not even a strong US commitment plus a supportive Israeli government is adequate to the task."

Instead, he said, "The most important ingredient for peace-making is the sustained determination of the two parties together, including their willingness to negotiate directly."

Berman also defended legislation he authored calling for greater sanctions against Iran even though APN has taken issue with it. He noted his admiration for the organization, a progressive group that advocates intensified US diplomacy in the region and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even though they have their differences.

"Although it is true that ordinary Iranians may suffer under a strong sanctions regime, they and their neighbors would likely suffer far less under sanctions than they would in a world where Iran is about to go nuclear, for that will be an uncertain world indeed," he said, according to the prepared remarks.

"Unfortunately, there are no sanctions that are both strong enough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course and limited enough not to impinge on the quality-of-life of average Iranians."

APN spokesman Ori Nir said his organization was very pleased by Berman's participation in their event, even if he highlighted areas where the two differ.

"We're grateful that he honored us by speaking at our event, and as he pointed out, even if there are some policy disagreements between us, we share the same objective of bringing peace to Israel through a two-state solution."

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