President Reuven Rivlin said that US President Barack Obama expressed concern to him over the future of Israel and of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private meeting between the two ahead of Wednesday’s White House Hanukkah party.
Rivlin said Obama was worried that a lack of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to long-term stalemate. “He expressed his concern over the future to come as well as the future of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”
Rumors have swirled in recent months that Abbas is considering resigning or dissolving the Palestinian Authority over a lack of progress towards a peace deal.
“The president was very open, very sincere and very clear in his words to me,” Rivlin said of the discussion which followed a warm public meeting between the two in the Oval Office.
“The president expressed both his concern and his uncompromising commitment to Israel,” he said.
During their brief interaction before the cameras, Obama called on Abbas on make efforts to calm recent tensions that have flared in the past two months.
“I have been very clear in condemning the violence that is reoccurring inside of Israel, the need for leaders like President Abbas to unequivocally condemn violence which has been taking place, the need to end incitement, but also the need for Israelis and Palestinians to find mechanisms in which to dialogue and arrive at peace,” Obama said.
But Rivlin said Obama did not see progress on the horizon, with the US president admitting peace talks were not likely during his last year in office. “He did not seem optimistic about the possibility of restarting talks with the Palestinians.”
“The Americans can help, but they see little chance to restart talks. The president agreed with me we need to build trust. They will check if both sides can make gestures that could bring the two nations closer and that could result in new negotiations,” Rivlin said.
In anticipation of his meeting with Obama, Rivlin published an opinion piece in the Washington Post in which he outlined what he described as “what Israel should do to lay the groundwork for peace.”
“As I write this, there is no currently viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Rivlin wrote. “There is no diplomatic process underway, and no indication of imminent negotiations.”
“Yet, even with no way forward, even with no clear timetable for an end to the conflict — the tragedy that envelops us all — we are duty bound to recognize where and how we can take effective action to improve the prospect that we will be able to live together, Jews and Arabs, in our region as we are destined rather than doomed to do,” he continued.
Rivlin said he had told Obama that while he believes in a need for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, steps towards a long-term agreement must be taken incrementally.
“I told him that maybe it should be done in stages, and perhaps we should discuss some sort of interim period,” he said.
A statement released by the White House said that Obama had “highlighted that the United States would continue to urge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take the significant steps necessary to enable the possibility of peace.”
“The President saluted President Rivlin for his efforts to combat extremism of any kind and to promote tolerance and understanding between communities; he also heralded his commitment to equal and fair treatment for all citizens of Israel,” the statement continued.
Before Wednesday’s candle lighting, Rivlin compared Obama to the shamash – the “helper” candle in a Hanukkah menorah which is used to light all the other candles.
“We know, Mr. President, that you have lit the candle for the last seven years to show the right way for your people, and for the entire world, and we are very sure that the eighth candle that you will light in the next year will be same, and show the whole world how to fight what we should not accept,” he said.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.