Washington D.C, Asharq Al-Awsat – The White House revealed Tuesday that US President Barack Obama sent a number of letters to Arab leaders asking them to take concrete steps towards Israel in the context of Israel taking “meaningful” steps towards peace.
A White House official confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the letters “were sent this month and are based on the US President’s speech in Cairo in which he called on all parties – Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states – to take concrete steps to create an atmosphere for bringing forward negotiations on the two-state solution.”
Since the US President’s speech in Cairo last June that was directed at the Islamic world, US officials have sought to convince Arab states to take steps towards Israel in return for convincing Israel to take “meaningful” steps towards achieving peace. The term “meaningful steps” in Washington has come to mean stopping the construction of Israeli settlements, which is considered a violation of international law. Europe and the United States have called on Israel to put a stop to settlement construction.
The Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, discussed the matter of settlement construction during his recent visit to Israel where he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He reinforced the US position that it’s vision is “of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes peace between Israel and the Palestinians, between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and Lebanon, and also the full normalization between Israel and its neighbours in the region…That is our objective and it is that to which we have committed ourselves fully.”
As George Mitchell continued his fifth tour of the region since his appointment to the position of Special Envoy for the Middle East, he worked towards achieving Obama’s goal of pushing for concrete Arab steps in return for Israeli steps.
The source from the US administration stated that “the President contacted a number of leaders in the region to express his message directly,” i.e. the message of “taking steps to create a suitable atmosphere for negotiations” between the Arabs and the Israelis.
The source said, “Special Envoy George Mitchell travelled to the region a number of times to support the President’s message and to work with parties to secure their approval on [taking] steps towards Israel.”
“As part of the President’s efforts to support progress towards the negotiations, he sent letters to a number of Arab leaders asking them to commit to [taking] steps towards Israel and lending more support to the Palestinian Authority in the context of Israeli steps towards peace,” added the source.
The official indicated that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell will “follow up on the President’s letters in the upcoming weeks.”
The source refused to go into more detail about the letters sent by the US President to Arab leaders.
The source mentioned that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is currently working on pushing the Obama administration to pressure Arab states to normalize relations with Israel.
US Senators Evan Bayh and James Risch circulated a letter supported by AIPAC that expressed support of Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between Israel and the Arabs. The letter stated, “We write in support of your efforts to encourage Arab states to normalize relations with the State of Israel. We agree with you and Secretary Clinton that Arab states must do more to end their isolation of Israel.”
Americans For Peace Now called for members of the US Senate not to sign the letter without pushing for pressure to be exerted on Israel to take concrete steps towards establishing peace and most importantly stopping settlement construction. In a statement, the group said that the letter is “unhelpful” because it “conspicuously ignores Israel’s continued refusal to stop settlement activity.”