Natasha Mozgovaya
September 23, 2009 - 12:00am

President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday that he was dissatisfied with their recent foot-dragging on getting Israeli-Palestinian talks restarted.

A senior U.S. administration source Tuesday told Haaretz that "during the tripartite meeting Obama strongly expressed his impatience."

The source said the meeting was "businesslike" but not cordial. Netanyahu and Abbas voiced their opinions but did not attack.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and Netanyahu adviser Yitzhak Molcho also attended the 45-minute meeting. The American side included U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, envoy George Mitchell, U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and Obama adviser Dennis Ross.

Obama scolded Netanyahu and Abbas. "We've had enough talks," Obama said. "We need to end this conflict. There is a window of opportunity but it might shut."

Obama made it clear during the meeting that he was interested in resuming the negotiations between the sides "about all outstanding issues" based on the talks and signed agreements since the beginning of the Oslo process 16 years ago.

"There's an historical record of the entire past negotiations and there are principles," he said.

"We won't start the negotiations from scratch, we will not take the historical record and toss it aside. Nor will we wait for the perfect formula."

He also said: "It's difficult to disentangle ourselves from history but we must do so. The only reason to hold public office is to get things done. We all must take risks for peace."

"We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back," Obama told reporters as he sat down for the meeting.

"Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency."

The U.S. president said both sides must get formal peace negotiations back on track. "Simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations," Obama said. "It is time to move forward... Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon."

Obama said his envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, would meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators next week, adding that he had asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report back to him on the status of the talks in October.

The U.S. leader said everyone had worked tirelessly but still had not done enough.

The source said that the Americans will mediate talks between Israel and the Palestinians in New York this week to reduce gaps between the sides and enable jump-starting the negotiations.

Additional talks will be held between Israeli, Palestinian and American work teams in Washington, conducted by Clinton.

The American source said the objective is to advance matters and resume negotiations within a few weeks with a public "launch event."

"It hasn't been decided yet how this would take place," the source said. "An idea was raised about a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, but no decision has been made.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Obama began more than half an hour late. The prime minister's convoy left the Regency Hotel late due to an American security alert. When all the participants sat down to the table for the photo-op at the Waldorf Astoria, their grim faces said it all.

Obama's words hardly warmed the atmosphere. Without a hint of a smile Obama displayed mainly impatience with the two sides' foot-dragging, desite the commitments he uttered at the end "to work as hard as it takes" to advance toward an agreement.

Obama described the bilateral talks with Netanyahu and Abbas as "sincere and productive" and thanked them for their willingness to come.

"As I said during the campaign and after entering office, the United States is committed to a just, viable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. That includes settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resulting in two states," he said.

To Palestinians, he said they must build on progress on halting terrorism and do more to stop incitement.

He praised the Israelis' moves to increase Palestinians' freedom of movement and their discussions about suspending settlement construction in the West Bank - both top Palestinian priorities.

"But they need to translate these discussions into real action," said Obama.

He said that since his administration took office in January there has been progress toward the resumption of peace talks "but we still have much further to go." The U.S. president also called on Arab states to take concrete steps to aid the peace process.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Haaretz afterward that he did not interpret the president's comments as a "rebuke."

"The meeting ended in a better, warmer atmosphere than it began. After the press left the president relaxed and emphasized the administration's determination to reach an agreement. The atmosphere between the two sides relaxed as well," Barak said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who also participated in the session, said the staging of the summit was "important" but criticized the Palestinians for making demands on Israel regarding the West Bank.

"The Palestinian side said they have no preconditions, but the other side is demanding all sorts of steps in Judea and Samaria," said Lieberman, referring to the West Bank.

He added: "I think that from our point of view this government, with all of its complexity, has been ready from day one to sit down and immediately talk with all the sides and all the neighbors, without preconditions."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017