Israel PM, Obama to hold key talks on peace deadline

JERUSALEM- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talks with US President Barack Obama next week are likely to prove crucial for determining whether peace negotiations with the Palestinians have a future beyond April.

The premier leaves Sunday for a series of meetings in Washington squarely focused on two key issues: the fate of the US-led peace process in light of an April 29 deadline, and nuclear talks between world powers and Iran.

Although Netanyahu would like his talks with Obama on Monday to deal predominantly with Iran, the White House appears to have a different agenda.

“Obama will press him to agree to a framework for a conclusive round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that is being drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry,” the New York Times said this week, quoting senior US officials.

Direct peace talks, which began in July 2013 with the goal of reaching a deal within nine months, have made no apparent progress, with Kerry now focused on getting them to agree a framework proposal which would extend the deadline until the year’s end.

Although the document has not yet been made public, it is understood to be a non-binding proposal laying out guidelines for negotiating the central issues of the conflict, including such as borders, security, Jerusalem, the settlements and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The proposal, or its outline, is likely to be presented to Netanyahu next week and to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on March 17 when he meets Obama at the White House.

While Kerry faces an uphill battle to win over a Palestinian leadership which has steadfastly refused any extension, following months of relentless Israeli settlement expansion, pundits said the prime minister was likely to agree, albeit with reservations.

“This is a crucial meeting with Obama, which is going to determine the shape of the framework for further negotiations,” said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Bar Ilan University.