White House Working on Renewed Mideast Peace Push – Carol E. Lee, Rory Jones/WallStreetJournal
The U.S. is discussing plans to revive Middle East talks before Obama leaves office, including possible Security Council resolution, senior U.S. officials say
The White House is working on plans for reviving long-stalled Middle East negotiations before President Barack Obama leaves office, including a possible United Nations Security Council resolution that would outline steps toward a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, according to senior U.S. officials.
The internal discussions are aimed at offering a blueprint for future Israeli-Palestinian talks in a bid to advance a critical foreign-policy initiative that has made little progress during Mr. Obama’s two terms in the White House, the officials said.
The strongest element on the list of options under consideration would be U.S. support for a Security Council resolution calling on both sides to compromise on key issues, something Israel had opposed and Washington has repeatedly vetoed in the past.
Other initiatives could include a presidential speech and a joint statement from the Middle East Quartet, an international group comprising the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
A senior administration official said no final decisions have been made and that Mr. Obama is considering a range of possibilities. The timing of any new White House move hasn’t been determined, but officials said it would be later this year.
The White House offered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a meeting with Mr. Obama later this month, but Mr. Netanyahu declined, administration officials said Monday.
By wading into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the final months of his presidency, Mr. Obama would be following a path some of his predecessors have taken. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both pushed for an agreement late in their second terms, but neither was able to bridge longtime divisions between the two sides.
For Mr. Obama, the effort would represent an uphill climb. Any initiative that doesn’t immediately enlist the two sides is unlikely to gain traction, especially after the last round of U.S.-brokered talks broke down in 2014 amid arguments over land swaps and prisoner exchanges.
U.S. officials said the president wants to put the issue on a more promising trajectory before his successor takes office in January. The recent increase in tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians has significantly dimmed the prospects of a deal and raised concerns within the White House that the situation could further deteriorate without any platform for negotiations.
Details of a new tack by the administration are in flux, officials said. But in one scenario, the U.S. would push Israel to halt construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories and recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, a key Palestinian demand.
Palestinians would in turn be asked to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end claims on a right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Under that scenario, the administration also would recommend the establishment of two states based on the 1949 armistice line between the armies of Israel and its Arab neighbors. Like proposals in previous rounds of negotiations, the approach would recommend land swaps to account for Israeli settlements built since 1967.
The White House discussions come as Vice President Joe Biden begins a visit Tuesday to Israel and the West Bank. Mr. Biden will meet with Mr. Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, though he isn’t expected to propose major initiatives, a senior administration official said in previewing the vice president’s trip.
An official in Mr. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on White House plans.
Palestinian officials said they would welcome an intervention from Mr. Obama before he leaves office, adding an end to settlement building would be required to make a two-state solution possible.
“Over the next 10 months, President Obama could be the savior of the two-state solution or bury it,” said Husam Zomlot, a senior aide to Mr. Abbas.
“This is no time for small measures. Let’s put in place the foundation for the next administration,” he added.
The current discussions are a pivot for the White House, where officials—including Mr. Obama—have expressed deep skepticism about the likelihood of a return to peace talks before January 2017. The efforts under discussion aren’t likely to improve those prospects.
Mr. Obama’s final appearance at the annual U.N. General Assembly this fall could provide a platform for outlining a new approach.
“As it relates to the possibility for a major push on a two-state outcome, it remains our view that there is no other viable outcome other than a two-state” solution, the official said. “But I’ll be candid with you, and U.S. officials have been saying this now for quite some time: We don’t think we’re on the brink of a breakthrough in this area.”
Mounting a push for a Security Council resolution would be a significant shift in U.S. policy and one the Israeli government has feared could marshal international sentiment in a way that could make it harder to resist making concessions. Such a move could further strain already tense relations between Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu, who have clashed over U.S. diplomacy with Iran and the administration’s past attempts to forge a Middle East peace agreement.
Last year, the White House threatened to allow action at the U.N. to proceed without objection from the U.S. after Mr. Netanyahu said during his re-election campaign that he wouldn’t support a two-state solution. The Israeli leader subsequently walked back his statement, and the White House didn’t follow through with its threat.
Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have vetoed dozens of Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. The Obama administration vetoed a Security Council resolution in 2011 that declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
The White House discussions have unfolded alongside other international initiatives to jump-start talks as officials from the U.N., EU and the Quartet become increasingly frustrated with both sides’ unwillingness to compromise.
France has said it would recognize a Palestinian state if a last attempt to bring the two sides together through an international conference fails, a stance Mr. Netanyahu has rejected as one-sided. Last month the Quartet said it would start drawing up recommendations on how to move forward on a two-state solution.
The worst violence between the two sides in a decade has raged across Israel and the Palestinian territories since September. Lone-wolf Palestinian assailants have killed some 30 Israeli civilians and soldiers in more than 300 attacks, according to Israel’s foreign ministry.
More than 150 Palestinians, mostly alleged attackers, have also been killed by Israeli security forces, according to Palestinian officials.
Palestinian officials say the assailants are disenfranchised under Israeli occupation and see no way to a political solution. Israeli officials argue that incitement by Palestinian leaders and online sources is spurring youth to violence.