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Wednesday April 22, 2009 7:09 AM (EST+7)
Washington sketches new policy of 'gestures'

Read more: US policy, US foreign policy, Washington, Barack Obama, King Abdullah, Middle East

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in exchange for normalization meetings with Israeli officials by Arab leaders, particularly those states who have withdrawn representatives in recent months.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.


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)







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