Laura Rozen
Politico (Blog)
April 9, 2010 - 12:00am

Obama's National Security Advisor Jim Jones says there's been no decision yet on the U.S. proposing its own Middle East peace plan.

"There’s been no decision on that," Jones told reporters aboard Air Force One, regarding recent reports that the Obama administration is being urged to propose its own detailed Middle East peace plan if there is no progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by the fall.

Reports in the Washington Post and New York Times this week said former U.S. national security advisors Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Sandy Berger met with Jones in the White House last month and recommended that the U.S. advance stalled peace talks by proposing its own peace proposal. President Barack Obama attended part of the meeting and listened to the proposal, the reports said.

"Obviously there’s been some reporting about former National Security Advisors that I convene in the White House, which I do regularly to benefit from their experience on issues that they were working on and that we’re still working on, like the Middle East," Jones said. "But we are focused on the proximity talks, eventual resumption of peace talks and getting to the two state solution in a manner that's befitting and deserving for the people of the region, and the overall security of the region and the impact on the global playing field."

"This is obviously a very strategic moment with Iran and our efforts there," Jones said. "The two are very closely linked because of the region that both efforts are ongoing in, and we have to treat that with the seriousness that it deserves."

The reports of the national security advisors' recommendation for a U.S. peace plan were widely read as a "trial balloon" floated by the White House to spur the Israeli government to provide some sort of written commitments that it will avoid settlement announcements that have set back U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

Arab governments and the Palestinians are generally thought to support the U.S. presenting its own comprehensive regional peace plan, while the Israeli government has fiercely resisted suggestion of it as meddling.

The Obama administration has officially denied the plan is even under consideration, and says it's trying to salvage U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

The Palestinians agreed to go into the talks last month. But two days afterwards, during a visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Israel, the Israeli government announced that it had approved 1,600 new Jewish housing units to be built in an ultra Orthodox neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Several days later, on the day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to meet with Obama at the White House, Israeli media reported that Jewish settlers had received final approval to build apartments in the sensitive Shepherd Hotel site in the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, that had previously been the subject of U.S. and UK protests. Netanyahu claimed he has no control over municipal decisions and was in the dark about the housing announcements.

The U.S. has reportedly asked Netanyahu to provide written commitments that such "surprise" housing announcements will end so peace talks can advance, but so far, Netanyhu has apparently refused. In September, a 10-month partial moratorium on new West Bank Jewish settlement construction that Netanyahu declared expires.

Jones acknowledged in his comments to reporters en route from Prague back to Washington today that there are discussions of a U.S. peace plan that might "jumpstart" the process, but downplayed it as something just in the discussion stage.

"Well, these are ongoing discussions and I think that while we’ve not taken any decision to jumpstart any dramatic shift in our strategy, I think we should say to make clear that we don't intend to surprise anybody at any time, and that whatever we do will always be done with the effort to help both Israel in its legitimate and our unqualified pledge to their security, and the emergence of a new Palestinian state that has legitimate claims on sovereignty and what that would look like," Jones told reporters. "That we will be a full time player and we will do everything we can to bring this about so that all sides are satisfied."

Jones said Obama understood Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to cancel plans to attend the Nuclear Security Summit the Obama administration is hosting next week. The Israeli government said Netanyahu cancelled after receiving reports that Egypt and Turkey had planned to grand-stand at the nuclear summit about Israel's undeclared nuclear weapons and its failure to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

"In the case of the Prime Minister’s decision, he [Obama] understands that their Holocaust Day events were going to make it difficult for the Prime Minister to be in two places at once," Jones said. "We obviously would like to have had the Prime Minister, but the Deputy Prime Minister [Dan Meridor] will be leading the delegation and there will be a robust Israeli delegation. And we’ll still have a great conference, but he understands the reasons why."

"I think that the Israelis did not want to be a catalyst for changing the theme of the summit, and I think that they will be at the table," Jones added. "The Prime Minister will be in Israel, but he is committed to the theme of the summit and the President's initiatives on proliferation and counter-proliferation and the spread of nuclear weapons."

"So, again, we’ll be sorry that the Prime Minister can't be there, but we’re delighted that we’ll have a very, very [good] Israeli delegation," Jones said.

U.S.-Israeli relations are "fine," the former Marine Corps general said.


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