WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s hopes for a fast track to renewed Mideast peace talks were dashed Thursday when his chief diplomat reported few new steps by either Israelis or Palestinians toward negotiations.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Obama Thursday in the Oval Office to report little to no new progress in a status report he had asked for by mid-October.
Clinton advised the president that challenges remain before peace talks can resume, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely discuss a private conversation with the president.
Clinton reported that Palestinians have strengthened security efforts and reforms of Palestinian institutions, but that more needs to be done to prevent terror and end incitement, meaning they must stop those who carry out or even encourage attacks on Israel.
On the Israeli side, she said they have eased Palestinians’ freedom of movement and expressed a willingness to curtail the building of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas. The administration, however, like the Palestinians, are asking for an end to all new settlement construction — something on which the Israelis are not budging. Clinton said the Israelis also must do more to improve Palestinians’ daily lives.
Last month in New York, Obama held a three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping it would prod them to relaunch talks that broke off more than a year ago. In an indication that no progress has been made since, Obama’s assessment of the situation at the time was virtually identical to the description in Clinton’s report Thursday on what steps the two sides have made and still need to take.
The president walked away from that meeting in September with no more than a handshake between the two Mideast leaders. He tasked George Mitchell, his envoy to the region, to continue meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. He also asked Clinton to report back on the status of all sides’ efforts in mid-October, in the belief that setting a deadline could spur action.
Mitchell recently wrapped up the latest round of what the official described as “intensive” talks in Washington and in the region with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. He is due to return to the Mideast soon to continue.
Clinton told the president that Israelis must translate their willingness on settlements into “real, meaningful action” — a continuation of particularly strident rhetoric by the Obama administration toward Israel on the emotional issue.
A senior State Department official said Mitchell has made some inroads in getting the two sides to agree on the terms of reference to relaunch the talks, but that they were far from an agreement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to detail Mitchell’s meetings.
Clinton also was expected to discuss the issue with Arab foreign ministers in Morocco early next month.