Matt Spetalnick
April 5, 2011 - 12:00am

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday it was more urgent than ever to seize the opportunity to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts even as unrest swept the broader Middle East.

Speaking after White House talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Obama pressed Israel and the Palestinians to capitalize on the wave of political change in the Arab world and seek to advance their long-stalled peace process.

But Obama, whose attempts to broker a peace deal have yielded little since he took office, stopped short of unveiling any new initiative to bring the two sides together.

Echoing Obama's appeal, Peres -- a veteran statesman and Nobel Peace laureate whose post is largely ceremonial -- said both he and Obama regarded democracy protests among Israel's neighbors as a "call of history that should not be ignored."

"With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it's more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between Palestinians and Israelis," Obama told reporters.

A new diplomatic push by the Obama administration is widely seen as vital to kick-start peace talks at a time when turmoil in the Arab world has many Israelis fearful of the rise of Islamists more hostile toward the Jewish state.

But after earlier stumbles, the White House has seemed uncertain how to proceed in the quest for a Middle East peace deal that has eluded successive U.S. presidents for decades.

Obama last September set a one-year goal for reaching a final deal on Palestinian statehood, a time-frame most analysts called a long shot. But he has yet to abandon that target despite the collapse of talks late last year in a dispute over Israeli settlement building on occupied land.

Though Peres's talks were not expected to achieve any breakthroughs, he could help lay the groundwork for a possible visit in coming months by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama has sometimes been strained despite the two countries' close alliance.


Peres, a leading member of Israel's peace camp, has insisted that Israel must take advantage of the "Arab spring" that has seen autocratic rulers toppled in Egypt and Tunisia and sparked a revolt against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But Netanyahu, who leads a right-leaning coalition, has taken a more cautious approach, resisting any major concessions to the Palestinians amid instability in the region.

Direct talks between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began on Sept. 2 in Washington but broke down several weeks later when a 10-month partial Israeli freeze on settlement building in the occupied West Bank expired.

Palestinian officials have accused Netanyahu of destroying prospects for peace by allowing settlement building to continue on land that Palestinians want for a future state, and refuse to return to negotiations until construction is frozen.

Israel rejects pre-conditions for talks and cite a Palestinian refusal to openly accept Israel as a Jewish state.

An Israeli official said in early March that Netanyahu was formulating a "phased approach" aimed at breaking the deadlock. Defence Minister Ehud Barak told the Wall Street Journal that Netanyahu might propose a Palestinian state with temporary borders, an idea Palestinian leaders reject.

There has also been growing speculation the Palestinians might ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize them as a member-state in September, a prospect that alarms Israel.


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