US President Barack Obama met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House yesterday, telling him he must take much greater political risks in order to break the deadlock surrounding the latest round of peace talks.
“It's very hard,” said Mr Obama sitting with Mr Abbas in the Oval Office. “We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we're able to move it forward, and I hope that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks.”
Time is running out for the two sides, who must reach an initial framework deal in order to extend the talks beyond the deadline due to expire on April 29. Details of the potential framework agreement have not been published but the main hurdle appears to be the Israeli demand for Mr Abbas to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.
The Palestinians say that they have already recognised the legitimacy of Israel in past agreements such as the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The US supports Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence on the “Jewish state” wording, but does not think it should be dealt with at this early stage in the process.
Mr Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, described the talks with Mr Obama as “long, intensive and difficult”.
Another issue that could derail the fragile negotiations is the possible release of the final group of Palestinian prisoners on March 29. The US is concerned that Israel may not go ahead with the release.
Nevertheless, Mr Obama tried to remain optimistic about the prospects for the process, saying that the general contours of a future agreement were well known by both sides.