Washington sketches new policy of ‘gestures’

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters & JMCC) – In White House talks Tuesday, Obama reassured Jordan’s King Abdullah of his
commitment to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, despite
reluctance by Israel’s new right-leaning government to support eventual
Palestinian statehood.

After the meeting, Obama told the press that he expects the parties to engage in "gestures of good faith" in coming months, according to AP.

News reports indicate that these gestures would include an Israeli settlement freeze in exchange for normalization meetings with Israeli officials by Arab leaders, particularly those states who have withdrawn representatives in recent months.

Obama reiterated his promise to "deeply engage" in efforts to revive stalled
Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and predicted good-faith gestures from both
sides in coming months.

"What we have to do is step back from the abyss," Obama told reporters after
meeting Abdullah in the Oval Office.

But Obama’s Middle East diplomacy has been complicated by the emergence of a
coalition led by Netanyahu, who since coming to power last month has avoided
recognizing the Palestinians’ right to an independent state, as his predecessor
did.

Obama took care not to confront Netanyahu head-on but made clear his
administration hoped to coax him into accepting the principle of a two-state
solution, which has been the basis of US policy for years.

"They are going to have to formulate and, I think, solidify their position,"
Obama said of Israel’s new government.

He said he expected to meet Netanyahu when he visits the United States. No
date has been announced, though there has been speculation it might be in a
matter of weeks.

"I agree that we can’t talk forever, that at some point steps have to be
taken so that people can see progress on the ground. And that will be something
that we will expect to take place in the coming months," Obama said.

Adding to pressure on Netanyahu, Obama added, "I am a strong supporter of a
two-state solution. I have articulated that publicly, and I will articulate that
privately. And I think that there are a lot of Israelis who also believe in a
two-state solution."

CONTRAST TO BUSH

Obama reaffirmed his pledge to make Middle East peace a priority for his
administration, in contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, who was widely
criticized for a more hands-off approach to the decades-old conflict.

Washington’s reengagement in the elusive quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace
is seen as a key thrust of Obama’s bid to repair the United States’ image in the
world damaged by the Iraq war and other Bush policies.

Obama also made clear his support for a 2002 Arab initiative seeking "a
comprehensive peace" between Israel and all Arab nations, including a
Palestinian state, to be an integral part of renewed peace efforts.

Successive Israeli governments have been wary of the initiative in part
because it is vague about how to resolve the status of Palestinian refugees.

It remained unclear, however, how hard Obama might be willing to push
Netanyahu to make compromises.

On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’s political weakness — he
governs only the West Bank while Islamist Hamas controls the Gaza Strip —
raises serious questions about his ability to deliver on any deal.

Visiting Israel and the occupied West Bank last week, Obama’s Middle East
envoy, George Mitchell, said he would vigorously pursue the creation of a
Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has pledged to hold talks with the Palestinians on economic,
security and diplomatic issues but has made no public promise to negotiate
statehood.

Palestinian leaders have rejected any notion of an "economic peace" and have
said US-backed talks with Israel could not resume until Netanyahu committed to
statehood. (Editing by David Storey)