Washington may be examining a new path toward Israeli-Palestinian peace, Channel 10 reported Wednesday night, with US Secretary of State John Kerry purportedly seeking to hold direct, intensive talks between the sides under the auspices of regional Arab powers.
According to the report, which did not quote any officials on the matter and could not be independently verified, Kerry wants negotiations to last two months and involve nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Additionally, the Channel 10 story noted, US President Barack Obama is expected to request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly express a positive attitude towards the 2002 Saudi-drafted Arab Peace Initiative — if not by endorsing it wholesale, at least welcoming its general intent — in order to help enlist Arab nations to the new initiative.
At the same time, US officials would ask Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to hold off for a few months on his demand for a UN Security Council resolution setting a deadline of November 2016 for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem — though it is unclear if Abbas would agree.
Netanyahu hinted at the possibility of such a track on Wednesday, when he called for Arab involvement in the peace process during a press conference with Obama in the White House.
Something was “changing in the Middle East” offering a new “commonality of interest between Israel and leading Arab states, and I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, a more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East. I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground,” he said. The US and Israel should “think outside the box” and “see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.”
Netanyahu and Obama held their first meeting Wednesday since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the summer’s 50-day Israel-Hamas war.
Obama said new efforts were needed to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes, and schoolchildren in their schools…but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well,” Obama said.
The meeting appeared amiable and was marked by warm body language, smiles and firm handshakes. But hours later a crisis erupted as news that a Jerusalem planning committee had signed off on the final stage of approval for housing in a major new neighborhood of East Jerusalem prompted the administration to issue some of the strongest language it has ever employed to condemn Israel, including the warning that Israel was endangering its relations with “even its closest allies.”
The comments from the White House and the State Department were issued after left-wing anti-settlement group Peace Now revealed that the Jerusalem municipality last week okayed construction of some 2,500 homes for Jews and Arabs in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood. The US statements suggested that Washington felt deeply embittered and blind-sided by the move, viewing Netanyahu as being disingenuous when telling Obama, at their press conference, that he wanted the US to help him win over Arab states to warm their ties with Israel and advance a two-state solution with the Palestinians.