US officials praise Netanyahu moves

White House, State Dept. officials tell 'Post' US gov't happy with PM's measures to ease life in W. Bank.

Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON - Obama administration officials have praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for steps he's taken to ease the conditions of Palestinians, as a way of continuing efforts to retool the US message so that the onus for progress in the peace process isn't perceived as lying disproportionately with Jerusalem. White House and State Department officials stressed to The Jerusalem Post on Friday that they were pleased by measures the prime minister had taken to lift checkpoints in the West Bank and to foster economic growth, as reports from the region mentioned improved economic and living conditions among Palestinians. The Netanyahu government has carried out several such actions in recent weeks but has felt they have been overlooked by the international community. "We welcome the steps that Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken to increase access and movement for Palestinians in the West Bank," a State Department official told the Post. "While more remains to be done, these are important steps that will help improve the situation on the ground and help create the context for the early resumption of negotiations towards a final-status agreement." The remarks came the same day that the crown prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, penned an opinion piece in The Washington Post calling on Arab countries to reach out to Israel. In the piece, titled "Arabs Need to Talk to the Israelis," he wrote, "We as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel." He spoke of the need for better communication between the two countries and the potential for trade to spring from that foundation. He also referred to the Arab peace initiative and the need to move forward on it, saying, "Essentially, we have not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how our initiative can form part of a peace between equals in a troubled land holy to three great faiths." The prince chided the Israelis as well as the Arabs for not taking sufficient steps toward peace but said that both sides had used unhelpful rhetoric. "An Israeli might be forgiven for thinking that every Muslim voice is raised in hatred, because that is usually the only one he hears," he said. "Just as an Arab might be forgiven for thinking every Israeli wants the destruction of every Palestinian." His piece ran beside one by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, in which he lashed out at the US and the international community for focusing on settlements. "Today, instead of a political process, the issue of settlement construction commands the agenda between the United States and Israel," Olmert wrote. "This is a mistake that serves neither the process with the Palestinians nor relations between Israel and the Arab world. Moreover, it has the potential to greatly shake US-Israeli relations." He indicated that in the past the two countries had addressed the issue with finesse. He also criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not agreeing to the final-status offer he made at the end of his term. "I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them," he said. "My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees." Abbas also came under fire from a top US congressman this week for rejecting peace talks until Israel committed to a complete settlement freeze. "I am deeply disappointed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has consistently rejected Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's call for unconditional talks on the Palestinian issue," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-California) said in a statement. "This is a condition Abbas never required of Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert." "For the sake of reestablishing an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and helping to create an environment of peace, I call on President Abbas immediately to accept Prime Minister Netanyahu's proposal for unconditional talks on peace," Berman wrote.