United States President Barack Obama is laying down some ground rules when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In an interview with Bloomberg, Obama warned Israel that it could expect sanctions and international isolation should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to support a framework peace agreement.
In the interview, Obama quoted the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel when he stated that his message to Netanyahu is: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” Obama criticized Netanyahu and said that the Israeli prime minister “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel.” He suggested that Netanyahu “articulate an alternative approach.”
When it comes to the Palestinians, Obama was very blunt about how he views Palestinian action thus far in the current round of peace negotiations. Obama reiterated that PA President Mahmoud Abbas was the most politically moderate leader the Palestinians could hope for. Now, when it comes to peace, the ball is in Israel’s court.
“There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” Obama explained. “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
Obama urged Netanyahu and Abbas to “reach past their differences and arrive at a framework that can move us to peace.” Obama still believes that Abbas is “sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist,” regardless of the repeated statements of Abbas and other PA officials that it would never recognize Israel.
When asked about a possible fallout between Israel and the Palestinians, Obama offered a “veiled threat” to Israel: The United States would no longer be able to effectively defend Israel. Obama condemned Israeli construction activities in settlements and East Jerusalem, arguing that building settlements was the most counterproductive action to peace Israel could make.
“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
The latest round of peace talks brokered by the U.S. and led by Secretary of State John Kerry appear to be hitting a dead end. Just last week, PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the Palestinians would no longer take part in peace talks past the April deadline.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is currently in the United States, is expected to meet with Obama at the White House later today. The peace framework will most likely be presented to Netanyahu this week and Abbas on March 17th when the PA prime minister meets with Obama.