The White House on Thursday pushed back against a report that US President Barack Obama would pressure Israeli and Palestinian leaders in upcoming weeks to make progress on peace talks, saying meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be used only to “take stock” of the negotiations.
“The prime minister’s visit, as well as President Abbas’s visit on March 17, will be important opportunities for the president to take stock of where we are and to work through the details with them,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday.
Netanyahu is slated to meet Obama on Monday, and on Thursday the White House announced that Abbas would visit the White House on March 17.
Earlier in the day, The New York Times reported that the visits are part of a bid by Obama to take a greater role in the peace talks, including plans to pressure both Abbas and Netanyahu to accept the non-binding “framework” agreement drawn up by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
However, unnamed US officials told Israeli television that the report was false and Obama would decide whether to take a more active role only after the March meetings. A Channel 2 report also quoted a diplomatic source in Jerusalem as saying Netanyahu was ready to accept the framework terms.
Negotiations are slated to end in April, and on Wednesday, Kerry said they would likely need to be extended. But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday that the talks would not be extended beyond April.
The sides are expected to be presented soon with the framework plan that will guide future negotiations, though many key issues reportedly remain to be ironed out.
“The parties are talking about the core issues, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition, an end of conflict and an end of claims,” Carney said.
He claimed the framework plan would “be a significant breakthrough” as it would contour a final-status agreement.
“The framework is an important step. We’ll see how the coming weeks unfold in terms of progress on it,” he said.
A Wednesday report in Palestinian media, however, suggested that Kerry’s proposal was finding little support in Ramallah.
According to al-Quds, the most widely read Palestinian daily, during a meeting in Paris last week, Kerry offered for Abbas to form a Palestinian capital in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, not all of East Jerusalem, as the Palestinians have demanded.
Kerry also suggested that Israel keep 10 settlement blocs as part of any territorial exchange.
The Jordan Valley would not be part of a future Palestinian state, Palestinian sources told the paper, nor would there be an international force stationed there. And Kerry reportedly demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
The report, which received no official confirmation, said Abbas exploded with rage over the US secretary’s proposals, and described them as “insanity.”
The PA president threatened to “overturn tables” and to go back on the flexibility he had shown in order to facilitate US-led peace efforts, according to al-Quds.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.