In a sign that Barack Obama may be stepping up his personal involvement in the peace talks, the White House announced Thursday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been invited to meet with the President on March 17, two weeks following Monday's scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The White House denies that the President will be pressing the two leaders to embrace a framework for peace being prepared by Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama just wants to “take stock” of the negotiations, officials said.
Both sides will have faint praise for the soon-to-be-unveiled Kerry framework and a multitude of complaints, while unnamed “senior sources” are accusing Obama and Kerry of selling them out and endangering their survival.
Kerry is putting the final touches on his framework and already both sides have been firing broadsides at it. Kerry has acknowledged that each will have its reservations but he knows it is unlikely either would reject the U.S. proposals out of hand for fear of bearing the brunt of the blame for the breakdown of the talks.
The original target date for completing these talks was to have been April, but Kerry will propose completing a full peace agreement by the end of this year.
The Israelis are believed agreeable but so far the Palestinians have flatly rejected any extension. But they’re not about to take a walk, just looking for some concessions to keep them at the table.
Palestinians officials have been saying what they’ve seen of the Kerry outline so far could have been written by Netanyahu, starting with a demand that they recognize Israel as the Jewish state. In Israel, the right wing, including the defense minister and many others in the Netanyahu coalition, have launched a stridently anti-American campaign, accusing the U.S. of betraying the Jewish state and siding with the Iranians and the Palestinians.
Oval Office meetings with the two Mideast leaders so close together sparked speculation of stepped up presidential involvement. Obama was badly burned by his mishandling of the peace process early in his first term and has appeared gun shy since, leaving Kerry to take the lead this time. Usually, the President's role would be as closer when a deal is within sight, but at this point the parties appear to be very far apart — the negotiating teams haven't even met face to face for weeks.
Obama’s White House visitors will again declare their deep desire for peace, readiness to make difficult compromises and doubts about the other's commitment, but it’s all rhetoric. What they really want is to stay in the good graces of the American president, no matter what they say about him in public. The bottom line is neither is capable of mustering the courage to call the other's bluff and make a dramatic move to end the conflict.