Obama resolves to directly sponsor resumed Israel-Syrian peace talks
debkafile‘s diplomatic and Washington sources disclose that Fred Hoff, head of the Syrian desk in George Mitchell’s US Middle East mission, posed a question to Israeli’s leaders, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud bark when he met them Monday, July 13: Is the incumbent government prepared to restart talks with Syria from the point at which ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s exchanges with Syrian president Bashar Assad were interrupted last December?
They broke off when a few days later, Israel launched its Cast Lead operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and were never resumed after Olmert left office in February.
Turkish prime minister Tayyep Erdogan was the live wire in those indirect talks, shuttling between the Israeli and Syrian delegations in Ankara. Towards the end of that round, Assad demanded a map showing the precise lines of Israel’s projected withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Olmert refused him and the negotiations fizzled out.
According to debkafile‘s Jerusalem sources, Hoff received no clear answer to his question. Netanyahu and Barak said they would first have to find out exactly what went on at the Ankara talks. They were most likely playing for time before grappling with the pressure from Washington to go back to the negotiating table with Damascus, this time under US auspices.
But the US president is in a hurry. He invited the heads of American Jewish organizations to meet him at the White House for the first time early Tuesday, July 14, to allay their concerns about Iran’s nuclear threat and his demands for an Israeli freeze on settlement expansion. He told them the US remains committed to Israel and will not implement any foreign policy that would threaten its security.
Although the event was not on his public schedule, Obama believes that bringing the American Jewish community on board is a key factor for the success of his Middle East plans and Israel policies.
Three liberal Jewish groups never invited to the Bush White House, Americans for Peace Now, the Israeli Policy Forum and J Street, were present, along with heads of the mainstream organizations, American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Jewish Democratic Council, Orthodox Union, United Jewish Communities, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the American Jewish Committee.
The three fringe groups, debkafile‘s sources report, have the ear of two high-ranking White House aides, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and close presidential adviser David Axelrod.
In recent weeks, they have been lobbying administration and White House circles to persuade the president that Israel must be cornered into making essential decisions on the peace process with the Palestinians and Arab states and, if necessary, solutions imposed on the Netanyahu government – without regard to the deep Palestinian divisions.
After midnight, our Washington sources quote participants at the meeting with the president as saying that intense Israeli media focus created the impression that the US was leaning hard on Israel, while ignoring White House pressure on the Palestinians and Arab governments to desist from inflammatory incitation and terror against Israel. Obama spoke of differences with Israel as arguments inside a family, but avoided committing himself to visiting Israel.
The US president defended his policy of engaging Iran and stressed that Tehran’s rejection of dialogue would have consequences. He did not elaborate.