Obama Invites Middle East Leaders to White House
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president was issuing the invitations in hopes of building on talks he held earlier in the day with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a steadfast Arab ally in the Middle East, which has made peace with Israel, as has Egypt.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will be asked to sit down with the president in the coming weeks, Gibbs said. No dates were set. Abbas runs the Palestinian controlled West Bank, but faces a strong challenge for overall authority from the increasingly powerful and militant Hamas faction that runs the Gaza Strip and is relentless in calling for the destruction of Israel.
After meeting the Jordanian monarch, Obama said he expected Israelis and Palestinians to make "gestures of good faith" within months to revive the languishing Mideast peace process.
Obama said he remained committed to pushing for a two-state solution: separate Israeli and Palestinian states existing side-by-side in peace.
Former President George W. Bush also had sought a framework for such a deal, but it did not happen before the end of his presidency.
Obama said his administration and special Mideast envoy George Mitchell had not finished listening to both sides and wanted to give Netanyahu's new Israeli government more time to formulate policy. But he said all sides in the conflict must overcome the grip of cynicism.
"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. "Unfortunately, right now what we've seen not just in Israel, but within the Palestinian territories, among the Arab states, worldwide, is a profound cynicism about the possibility of any progress being made whatsoever."
In a photo session with Abdullah, Obama had said Netanyahu would be visiting the United States. "I expect to have meetings with him."
Netanyahu is a hard-liner when it comes to negotiating and has routinely opposed giving up territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war or sharing Jerusalem as a capital for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both issues are critical to a settlement both with the Palestinians and the larger Arab world. Arab regimes throughout the region have vowed to recognize Israel and make peace if the captured territory is returned and Jerusalem is a shared capital.
"My hope would be," Obama said, "that over the next several months, that you start seeing gestures of good faith on all sides. I don't want to get into the details of what those gestures might be, but I think that the parties in the region probably have a pretty good recognition of what intermediate steps could be taken as confidence-building measures."
Since former President Jimmy Carter shepherded a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt to reality nearly three decades ago, the United States has been working to no avail to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gibbs said Obama believes the United States must be involved in the process continually if there is to be progress.
"Obviously there are many issues that both parties are going to have to resolve on their own. The president believes that the value of this country's input and the value of helping the world in working toward that progress can't be done on a part-time basis," the spokesman told reporters.