WASHINGTON – President Obama has not looked so impatient and grumpy in public ever since he was sworn-in as president of the United States. “I have just concluded frank and productive bilateral meetings,” the president said following his sessions with Netanyahu and Abbas at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. In undiplomatic language this meant: We just concluded talks where I told each of the sides precisely what I think about them and what they need to do.
Obama is fed up. It was apparent on his face and in his statement to the media. The president, a soft-spoken man who does not resort to exaggerated zeal, flexed his muscles and spoke to Bibi and Abbas as the president of a superpower to reprimanded children. He gave them a failing grade for their achievements and informed them of what he expects of them in the next semester.
Those who saw George Mitchell upon his return from the Middle East reached the conclusion that he’s rather fed up as well. At the age of 76 this impressive man has no interest in getting lost in the “come and go” between Jerusalem and Ramallah. So Obama brought the Israelis and Palestinians to Washington. Abbas did not want a three-way meeting? There, I brought him to New York.
The prime minister of Israel and the Palestinian leader sat with their backs to the president and heard him order them to dispatch their delegations to Washington next week without preconditions.
“Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security, but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations,” the president ruled. “Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity. But they need to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues. And it remains important for the Arab states to take concrete steps to promote peace.”
White House officials read the criticism by the Mideastern media over the futile invitation to the three-way meeting in New York, ostensibly meant to result in the photo Obama wanted rather than a declaration on the resumption of negotiations. Obama responded to this bluntly: “Simply put it is past time to talk about starting negotiations - it is time to move forward.”
Inviting the Israeli and Palestinian delegations to Washington next week will enable Special Envoy Mitchell, Secretary of State Clinton, and President Obama himself to closely monitor the bilateral and possibly trilateral meetings, and to get involved and exert pressure if needed.
“I'm committed to pressing ahead in the weeks and months and years to come, “ the president said to those who thought he can be given the runaround and frustrated, prompting him to abandon the issue in favor of other difficult problems that keep him awake at night. Why is Obama unwilling to give up? “Because it is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved. It’s not just critical for the Israelis and the Palestinians, it’s critical for the world, it is in the interests of the United State.”
And another note for those who think that more time can be bought. Some White House officials endorse Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad’s proposal to set a timeframe of two years for the talks, after which the Palestinians will be able to declare a state even without a deal with Israel.
Fayyad would not have made his statement without a backwind from Washington. Israeli officials object to the setting of a timetable for talks, and the White House at this time does not wish to force its views, but rather, build trust and maintain proper work relationships between the sides. Yet in the absence of progress, that day may come too.