A top member of Congress on Sunday defended PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu and placed the onus for restarting peacetalks on the Palestinians.
"Itis time for Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud] Abbas to come tothe negotiating table," declared Howard Berman, chairman of the USHouse Foreign Affairs Committee, according to prepared remarks releasedafter his appearance at an Americans for Peace Now (APN) luncheon inhis home state of California.
"The United States cannot negotiate on the Palestinians' behalfby proxy, as some have reported President Abbas would like. It would beunfortunate indeed if the Palestinians chose to stay on the sidelinesrather than negotiate for the statehood they have long craved," hesaid.
Abbas has so far refused to negotiate with Netanyahu withoutthere first being a total settlement freeze. Though Netanyahu announceda new-construction moratorium in the settlements in November, that didnot satisfy Abbas's demands, particularly because it did not includeeast Jerusalem.
"We may have done him a disservice by not makingclear at the outset of the administration that negotiations should notbe linked to a settlement freeze," Berman acknowledged, also noting hishigh regard for Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad'sefforts to build Palestinian institutions.
"That said, it is past time for President Abbas to find his wayback to the negotiating table. The region needs that, and thePalestinians need that."
Inhis speech, Berman also praised the moratorium and several other stepsNetanyahu has taken, including endorsing a two-state solution andeasing movement of Palestinians in the West Bank.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu and his colleagues are the ones whohave taken the difficult decisions, and for this they deserve morecredit than they get," he said.
"In my view, Netanyahu has demonstrated greater maturity andpragmatism during this, his second prime ministry, than he did in the1990s. I believe he well understands intellectually what peacerequires, and he wants to be a peace-maker."
While Berman backed US President Barack Obama's stronginvolvement in the peace process, he contended that "A strong UScommitment is not adequate for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Noteven a strong US commitment plus a supportive Israeli government isadequate to the task."
Instead, he said, "The most important ingredient forpeace-making is the sustained determination of the two partiestogether, including their willingness to negotiate directly."
Berman also defended legislation he authored calling forgreater sanctions against Iran even though APN has taken issue with it.He noted his admiration for the organization, a progressive group thatadvocates intensified US diplomacy in the region and in theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict, even though they have their differences.
"Although it is true that ordinary Iranians may suffer under astrong sanctions regime, they and their neighbors would likely sufferfar less under sanctions than they would in a world where Iran is aboutto 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 strongenough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course andlimited enough not to impinge on the quality-of-life of averageIranians."
APN spokesman Ori Nir said his organization was very pleased byBerman's participation in their event, even if he highlighted areaswhere 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 disagreementsbetween us, we share the same objective of bringing peace to Israelthrough a two-state solution."