WASHINGTON/RAMALLAH: President Barack Obama does not plan to use his coming trip to Israel to advance new proposals to break open the deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians, the White House said Wednesday.
Obama will visit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time as president as soon as next month on a trip that also includes stops in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
With the visits likely to focus heavily on Iran’s nuclear challenge and the civil war in Syria, White House spokesman Jay Carney played down speculation that new peace initiatives could also feature.
“Any time the president and prime minister have a discussion and certainly any time the president has a discussion with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, those issues are raised,” he said. “But that is not the purpose of this visit.”
A spokesman for the Palestinian presidency said Wednesday it hoped Obama’s forthcoming visit will mark the beginning of a new U.S. policy in the region.
“President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Palestine,” Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency told AFP.
“We hope that President Obama’s visit to the region is the beginning of a new U.S. policy that will lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967, in accordance with the international resolutions,” Abu Rudeina said from Cairo.
The White House is styling the trip as a chance for Obama and Netanyahu to take stock at the beginning of their respective new administrations, following the U.S. election in November and Israeli polls last month.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro said Obama would bring an “urgent” agenda to Israel on his upcoming visit, focusing on regional developments including Iran and Syria as well as the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Shapiro gave several interviews to Israeli media Wednesday morning with the same message.
“We have a very urgent agenda,” Shapiro told Army radio. “He [Obama] wanted in his first trip of his second term to speak with the prime minister about this urgent agenda, about Iran, about our joint efforts to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons and stop its support of terrorism. And about Syria, the dangers in Syria and how to prevent ... the chemical weapons from falling into dangerous hands,” Shapiro said.
“We have a very complex agenda about Iran, Syria and the need to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, so it’s important to begin as fast as possible,” he added.
But hopes for a breakthrough in peace talks seem slim.
Both Israel and the Palestinians have theoretically committed themselves to the goal of a “two-state solution,” living side-by-side within agreed borders.
The Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations while Jewish settlement building continues in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. Israel says it will not enter talks while the Palestinians lay down “pre-conditions.”
Obama began his first term in 2009 with a new peace initiative but his effort foundered over Israeli resistance to halting settlement construction.
The American president also clashed with Netanyahu on the issue, and the two leaders have also been at odds over the imminence of the threat from Iran’s nuclear program, though both agree Tehran should not get the bomb.