Abbas urges Obama to impose Mideast peace deal
n blunt appeal, the U.S. president is urged to take forceful steps.
The Associated Press
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called on President Obama on Saturday to impose a Mideast peace deal, reflecting growing frustration with what Palestinians see as the U.S. failure to wrangle concessions out of Israel's hard-line government.
In an unusually blunt appeal, Abbas said that if Obama believes Palestinian statehood is a vital U.S. interest, the U.S. leader must take forceful steps to bring it about. "Since you, Mr. President and you, the members of the American administration, believe in this, it is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution — impose it," Abbas said in a speech to leaders of his Fatah movement.
"But don't tell me it's a vital national strategic American interest ... and then not do anything."
Abbas spoke a day after meeting with Obama's special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, who has tried in vain for more than a year to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Abbas said there's no point in holding talks as long as Israel keeps building settlements on Palestinian-claimed land and refuses to discuss the fate of east Jerusalem, the sector of the city Palestinians claim as a future capital.
Mitchell is expected to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, their second meeting in three days. However, there was no sign of a breakthrough in this round.
The U.S. has proposed so-called proximity talks, in which Mitchell would shuttle between the two sides, in hopes of ending the stalemate and paving the way for direct negotiations. However, the Palestinians said they won't engage unless Israel promises not to start new housing projects in east Jerusalem. Netanyahu repeated last week that he will not freeze construction in the city.
The issue of settlement expansion has emerged as a major point of contention between Israel and the Obama administration.
Israel has resisted U.S. demands for a comprehensive freeze, instead agreeing only to slow construction in the West Bank, but not east Jerusalem. Tensions flared in March when Israel announced plans for 1,600 new homes for Jews in east Jerusalem. The announcement, which came during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, angered U.S. officials.
U.S. failure to get Israel to comply with a settlement freeze — one of the Jewish state's obligations under a U.S.-backed peace plan first introduced in 2003 — has frustrated the Palestinians.
Israelis and Palestinians have negotiated for nearly two decades, with the U.S. acting as a broker. The outlines of a deal were sketched out a decade ago, by President Clinton, but the two sides never came close to a final agreement.
The traditional U.S. position has been to act as a mediator while treating Israel and the Palestinians as equal partners who in the end must make their own decisions. Critics have said this approach does not take into account the imbalance of power — that Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation.
National Security Adviser James Jones told a Washington think tank last week that "peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside," but that the U.S. is ready to "do whatever is necessary to help the parties bridge their differences."
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said "the Israeli position is that we believe the only way to solve the problem is through direct negotiations."
Abbas, meanwhile, warned Saturday that chances for a two-state solution are fading, and that Israelis could find themselves one day — against their wishes — sharing a single state with the Palestinians. He was referring to concerns that Israeli settlement expansion could one day prevent partition of the land.
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