'White House has learned lessons'

Top Jewish leader says US realizes public pressure on ME not recipe for success.

abbas pointing finger 311 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas pointing finger 311 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US administration is quietly pressuring the Palestinians to come tothe negotiating table, according to an influential American Jewishleader and longtime supporter of US President Barack Obama.
According to Alan Solow, chairman of the American Jewish umbrellaorganization, Conference of Presidents of Major American JewishOrganizations, the Obama administration has learned some lessons fromthe mistakes of the past year, primarily “that trying to [pressure thesides] in public is not a recipe for success.  One of the weaknesses ofthe [administration’s] approach toward Israel was that the settlementfreeze demand was made publicly, and that put Prime Minister Netanyahuin a very difficult political position.”
Obama’s popularity ratings have suffered among Israelis due to awidespread perception in Israel that Obama favored the Palestinian sidein the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. But Solow said American leadersare well aware the Palestinians are the party refusing to talk.
“I don’t think the Americans are asking Netanyahu to do more withrespect to the Palestinians” than the concessions he has already made,such as the public acceptance of Palestinian statehood and a ten-monthconstruction freeze in West Bank settlements.
“The administration is pressuring the Palestinians,” he insisted, “but[it must do so] quietly, without it appearing as though [Palestinianand Arab leaders] are caving in to American pressure.”
“The administration should continue to acknowledge that the Israelisare willing to return to the negotiating table and it’s time to tellthe Palestinians they have to do the same, and it’s important to bringthe Arab states into this process to give Abbas the support he needs tostart negotiating,” he said.
Solow spoke to The Jerusalem Poston the sidelines of the Conference of Presidents gathering inJerusalem, an annual event that brings American Jewish leaders toIsrael for briefings and meetings in the country. Over the course ofthe gathering this week, the group of some 100 organizational leadersis hearing from Israel’s president, prime minister, defense minister,opposition leader and other top officials.
While Solow sought to convey that Obama was working behind the scenesto jump-start negotiations, an Israeli official gave a more pessimisticanalysis of the current state of the peace process.
“There are question marks in Israel as to whether Abu Mazen [PAPresident Mahmoud Abbas] wants negotiations at all,” said Israelispecial envoy to the negotiations Brig.-Gen. Michael Herzog. In theIsraeli view, “Abbas thinks in historical terms. This is his last termas president. He doesn’t want [to start a process that will] fail.”
To convince the Palestinian leaders to come to the negotiating table,the US administration “should make clear to the Palestinians thatAmerica will not step forward with an already completed [peace] plan,”a move that would sidestep negotiations and give the Palestinians theimpression they need not negotiate over the concessions Israel wants,including recognition of Israel’s Jewishness.
The Arab world, too, “should be encouraged to encourage Abbas to sitdown to negotiate without preconditions. [So far], the Arabs have notbeen willing to say anything publicly on this. Privately, they’resaying to the Americans and to us: ‘We think Abbas’s position regardingre-launching negotiations is unsustainable, but we still support him.’It’s a contradictory position,” Herzog said.
Indeed, the Arab states could be more a part of the problem than the solution.
“Next month the Arab League is convening. If by then there are nobilateral discussions, the Arab nations will go toward the lowestcommon denominator [in rejecting negotiations] and tie Abu Mazen’shands more,” he warned. “So I don’t think we have much time.”