Howard Berman 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A top member of Congress on Sunday defended Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and placed the onus for restarting peace
talks on the Palestinians.
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
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
"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."
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
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."