President Barack Obama will present a “general framework” for Israeli-Palestinian peace during his visit to Israel and the West Bank in two weeks’ time, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported Thursday night, quoting what it said were remarks made by the president in a pre-visit White House briefing for US Jewish leaders.
He will not unveil a “comprehensive Middle East peace plan” during the trip, the report said, but told the leaders Thursday they should not rule out him doing so “sometime in the next six, nine or 12 months.”
A US source close to the issue, however, described the Channel 10 report as “absolutely false.”
A senior administration official told The Times of Israel: “The president did invite leaders from across the American Jewish community to discuss and get input about his upcoming trip to Israel. He did not present a framework for peace talks.”
Added the official, “The president reiterated America’s unshakeable support for Israel and thanked the leaders for role they play in strengthening ties between the two nations. The president noted that the trip is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather an opportunity to consult with the Israeli government about a broad range of issues – including Iran, Syria, the situation in the region, and the peace process. He also underscored that the trip is an opportunity for him to speak directly to the Israeli people about the history, interests, and values that we share.”
According to Channel 10, Obama told the Jewish leaders he intended to speak to the Israelis about peace with the Palestinians, and would make clear that “wanting peace is not enough.” He will be asking Israel “which tough steps it will be willing to take,” the TV report said.
The report twice repeated that while the president would not be bringing a specific plan, he did intend to present a “general framework.” The president’s remarks to the senior Jewish leaders, the TV report added, were not supposed to have been publicized.
At the same time, Obama told the Jewish leaders Thursday he would make clear that he recognizes how much more unstable the Middle East has become, and would highlight the US’s iron-clad commitment to Israel, the report said.
Obama also reportedly said that he was committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive if possible, and that he would not be issuing tough-sounding declarations about the Iranian nuclear dispute during his visit.
Channel 10 also claimed Obama was hoping to arrange a four-way summit during his trip, attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu and Abdullah were said to have agreed to attend. Abbas was conditioning his participation on a commitment — “some kind of promise” — that Israel was ready to freeze settlement building en route to resuming substantive negotiations. Without such a commitment, Abbas would make have to make do with a one-on-one meeting with Obama, the report said.
The US was making “immense efforts” to arrange the summit, Channel 10 reported, with efforts now under way to find a formulation that could also satisfy Abbas. There was “a reasonable chance” that the four-way meet would take place.
Channel 10 added that Obama’s advance team would arrive in Israel on Sunday to finalize the itinerary for the trip, his first as president, which is set to start on March 20.
An Israeli Embassy official in Washington on Wednesday described as “baseless” reports in the Israeli media that Obama might delay his trip should Netanyahu fail to meet a March 16 deadline to form a government.
The two leaderships have said they would consult on efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, the instability in Syria, ways to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, and other vital issues.
On Wednesday, Israeli media reported that Obama would not hold a planned public address at the Knesset, but rather at an alternative Jerusalem venue, probably the International Convention Center. Obama’s reason for skipping the Knesset is his preference for a “politically neutral” venue, Israel Radio reported.
A senior administration quoted by JTA Thursday said Obama hoped to address young Israelis on his visit. ”The president’s speech is an opportunity for him to speak directly with the Israeli people, in particular to young people, about the broad nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” the official said.