WASHINGTON ““ It is critical for the United States to remain committed to the peace process, Israeli President Shimon Peres told President Obama.
“I told him we would not want the Middle East peace process to continue without the United States,” Peres told reporters after his lunchtime meeting with Obama.
A Peres aide later told reporters that this was the “critical message” Peres came to Washington to convey to the White House, suggesting that there is an impression in the Israeli government that the Obama administration is washing its hands of the peace process.
Peres said he was particularly concerned that Europeans would come up with a peace plan without first consulting Israel.
The Israeli leader said he shared with Obama “ideas” for restarting direct peace talks with the Palestinians, and that both leaders agreed that a formula must be found for sustainable talks that do not implode after a gala opening, as they did last September.
The Palestinians walked out of the talks after three weeks because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government refused to extend a partial settlement freeze beyond 10 months.
Peres and Obama in their remarks after their meeting – 45 minutes one on one and then lunch with their senior advisers – both said that the democracy movement now sweeping the Arab world presented the Israelis and the Palestinians with an opportunity to be seized.
“We must bring an end to the conflict that serves the interests of our enemies,” Peres said.
Obama in his remarks said that “with the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it is more important than ever to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Peres also said he appealed to Obama “president to president” to release Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel, on humanitarian grounds. Pollard is said to be ill.
Obama thanked Peres for the information but did not otherwise comment. Peres’ open appeal comes after a formal request by Netanyahu in December.
On Monday, Peres told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Israel was ready to do what it could to facilitate transition among its neighbors to democracy.
“We see this occasion as an occasion … to cooperate in every possible way to enable this change to take the course into the 21st century for all the Middle East people and escape their poverty and problems and wants,” Peres told Clinton before their meeting.
Clinton told Peres that it was an honor to host him in Washington and that “President Obama is very much looking forward to seeing you and discussing the issues that you have raised and your perspectives and the way forward, which will hopefully realize the better outcomes that we all wish for.
“Our task together is to deepen and broaden our friendship, our relationship, our partnership to look for ways that we can work toward the kind of future that you have always believed in and that you have held out as a promise for the children of Israel and the children of all the countries of the Middle East,” Clinton said.
JTA Wire Service