Laura Rozen
Yahoo News
June 10, 2011 - 12:00am

In a call with Jewish leaders today, new White House Middle East adviser Steve Simon laid out the state of play in the current U.S. effort to re-launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks along the principles President Obama laid out in a series of speeches last month. According to notes from the call provided to The Envoy, the United States has received a mostly positive response to the U.S. proposal from the Palestinians and the Europeans, but is still waiting to see whether Israel will accept the framework for negotiations.

Obama suggested in a speech at the State Department last month that the Israelis and Palestinians return to the negotiating table, focusing first on the issues of security and borders for a future Palestinian state, which he said should be negotiated on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

Obama's proposal is aimed at heading off a Palestinian bid to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations in September, bypassing negotiations altogether. Furthermore, U.S. officials have said, Obama's speech was timed ahead of the president's trip to Europe last month, where he sought to build European support for the U.S. initiative, over voting in favor of the Palestinians' UN bid, which would recognize the state of Palestine within 1967 lines.

In the call today, Simon, who recently succeeded Dan Shapiro--the recently confirmed U.S. envoy to Israel--as National Security Council Senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that the Europeans and Palestinians are inclining toward the U.S. plan.

"Now, our European partners and we in Washington are waiting to see whether the parties are actually going to sign up to the president's principles as a basis for negotiations," Simon said, according to a source on the call who requested anonymity. "The Palestinians have been fairly forthcoming on this score. So we are kind of comfortable with that, but not completely, and now we are working with the Israeli government to see whether or not they can accept these principles as a basis for negotiations. Those discussions are ongoing."

"The timeframe for those discussions is kind of compressed," Simon further said, according to notes of his remarks, because UN rules require the paperwork for the possible Palestinian vote to be in several weeks before it would occur in September. "So we've got basically a month to see if we can work something out with the Israelis and Palestinians on accepting these principles as a basis for negotiations. If that happens, we are somewhat confident that the Palestinians would drop their action in the UN."

Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat said the Palestinians would accept Obama's principles as a basis for negotiations, "and now we are waiting to see whether the Israelis can do this," the source on the call said in summarizing Simon's side of the conversation. "And we are in very close consultations with Israel now on exactly this issue. Because the best outcome at this point would be to have both sides embrace these principles as a basis for negotiations and flesh that out a little bit and then be able to say to the Europeans on one side, to the Security Council on the other, and the Palestinians on the third side: listen, at this point there is an alternative out there … there is no need at this point to go to the UN. That's where we want to be."

Meanwhile, sources note that Israeli officials are increasingly publicly projecting resignation to the Palestinian UN bid, even as they downplay the significance of the proposed move.

"Nobody can block the UN General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian state in September," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee May 30, according to Israeli news site Ynet, which said he added that in the UN "it would even be possible to pass a resolution that the world is flat."

However, Netanyahu stressed the United Nations cannot admit a Palestinian state as a member without a recommendation from the UN Security Council, "and such a move is doomed to fail."

The upshot?

Israeli leaders seem to be sending a signal to Washington that they will not be pushed by the Palestinians' UN bid to accept Obama's proposed terms for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations -- '67 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

Meantime, world opinion on a fair basis for negotiating a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be being organized around the terms Obama laid out -- even if there's no easily foreseeable way to move that consensus forward in the coming months.


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