Obama Seeks to Pave Way to Mideast Deal After He Leaves Office

Source: New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama, resigned to his failure to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, is looking past his time in office and weighing a plan that would preserve at least the principle of a two-state solution for his successor to pursue.

The White House is debating whether the president should lay down the outlines of an agreement, several officials said, perhaps through a resolution at the United Nations Security Council or in a presidential speech. The objective would not be to revive direct negotiations — almost nobody believes that is likely now — but to enshrine the proposals Secretary of State John Kerry made during his last failed effort at peacemaking in 2014.

A Security Council resolution, officials said, would give enduring legitimacy to the compromises that Mr. Kerry hammered out in private between the two sides, and build broad international support for a series of proposed solutions that could provide the framework for a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

These deliberations, which have been percolating for several months, have rattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and could lead to further tension between him and the president in a relationship that has already been marked by bitter rifts.

Mr. Netanyahu on Monday declined an invitation to meet with Mr. Obama on March 18 in Washington, ostensibly because he did not want to get drawn into the volatile presidential election. In fact, several officials said, Mr. Netanyahu did not want to meet with Mr. Obama without having sealed the terms of a new pact on American military aid. The 10-year agreement, potentially worth more than $40 billion, is viewed as a way to compensate Israel for the Iran nuclear deal. But negotiations have run into snags, these people said, and Mr. Netanyahu did not want to risk leaving an Oval Office meeting empty-handed.

An even deeper potential source of friction between the leaders, officials said, stems from the possibility that Mr. Obama will make a last foray into peacemaking. In whatever form that would take, the purpose would be to show a way of resolving all the central issues that divide the two sides, from the borders of a Palestinian state to Israel’s security and the political status of Jerusalem.

“Obama and Kerry are looking at the very real likelihood that the two-state solution could die on their watch,” said Martin S. Indyk, who served as the special envoy for Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations under Mr. Kerry in 2013 and 2014. “Having tried everything else, I think they feel a responsibility, above all to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, to preserve the principles of a two-state solution.”

After months of intensive talks, Mr. Kerry failed to break a deadlock on the so-called final-status issues between Mr. Netanyahu and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Netanyahu has since won re-election with a government that is even more hard-line on these issues than his last one. During that campaign, the prime minister disavowed his support for the two-state solution. Mr. Abbas’s position, meanwhile, has been eroded by months of violent attacks by Palestinians on Israeli Jews.

Adding to the urgency of the debate, officials said, is a mounting American concern that a continued expansion of Jewish settlements in a swath of territory in the West Bank known as Area C will soon make a geographically and politically viable Palestinian state impossible.

Middle East peace initiatives have long had appeal for late-term presidents. Ronald Reagan opened a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization during his final months in office. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both made last-ditch attempts to broker peace deals in their last years in office. Any new effort by Mr. Obama would bear a host of uncertain political ramifications in an election year.

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