LONDON – A week after ratcheting up pressure on Israel’s government to restart peace talks with Palestinians, President Barack Obama launched a campaign to persuade European leaders not to endorse a separate Palestinian bid for statehood. But his appeal to Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, won only a noncommittal response.
After a meeting Wednesday with Obama, Cameron said the time is not yet right for European leaders to decide on the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition, which the Palestinian Authority leadership is expected to make at the U.N. General Assembly in September. Cameron said world leaders should press Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table they abandoned last September.
“We want to discuss this within the European Union and try and maximize the leverage and pressure (that) the European Union can bring on both sides to get this vital process moving,” Cameron said at a news conference with Obama in London.
Senior Obama administration officials portrayed Cameron’s statements as supportive of U.S. efforts to get the two sides back to the negotiating table, but the officials acknowledged that no timetable for future talks has emerged.
The Obama administration is deeply concerned that European leaders may decide to support the unilateral Palestinian bid for recognition, a step that would isolate Israel and embarrass its most powerful ally, the United States.
In a speech last Thursday in Washington, Obama offered the outline of a new plan for peace negotiations. Aides said he sought, in part, to convince other nations that the U.S.-led Mideast peace process is still alive and that they should not grant recognition at the U.N. to help the Palestinians address their grievances.
U.S. officials said Obama planned to make the issue a top priority in his four-country, six-day European tour, which includes a stop in Deauville, France, to meet leaders of the Group of Eight major industrial nations.
Obama told reporters in London that a Palestinian state can be created through negotiations, but it will require “wrenching compromise from each side.” He said the effort by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to seek U.N. recognition was “a mistake.”
Although Cameron praised Obama’s new principles for peace, which include using Israel’s 1967 boundaries as a baseline for territorial negotiations, he declined to go further. British officials have previously warned Israelis that they could support a Palestinian bid for recognition if peace talks broke down.
Some other European officials said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious visit to the White House and Capitol Hill convinced them that prospects for talks have actually declined. The officials said Netanyahu offered few concessions for a peace deal, and the U.S. Congress appeared to line up squarely behind Netanyahu’s tough line.