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Obama set to meet Israel PM for peace framework support Palestinian killed by Israeli raid in Gaza

WASHINGTON, March 3, (Agencies): US President Barack Obama will push Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a framework for extending Middle East peace talks Monday, but could face an uphill battle against a reluctant premier. When the president and the prime minister meet at the White House, their discussion could determine whether Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians have a future beyond April 29. And the issue of Jewish settlements looked likely to feature high on the agenda after Obama bluntly warned that, without a peace deal, more construction would expose Israel to an international backlash. But the crisis in the Ukraine looked set to overshadow the visit, with Washington locked in a tense showdown with Moscow in what is developing into the biggest transatlantic crisis since the Cold War.

In their Oval Office talks, Obama will push Netanyahu to accept a framework for a conclusive round of peace talks which has been pieced together by Secretary of State John Kerry. Washington had previously aimed to reach a final status agreement by April 29 but, with no deal in sight, the framework is an attempt to extend the deadline until the year’s end. It will be Obama’s most significant entry into peacemaking since 2010 when his first attempt at Middle East mediation collapsed after just three weeks in a bitter dispute over settlements. “There’s a sense that the negotiations have reached a point where only presidential engagement, direct presidential engagement, can move them forward,” said Haim Malka, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The as-yet-unpublished framework, which addresses the most nettlesome issues of the conflict such as borders, security and the future status of Jerusalem, was central to Netanyahu’s morning meeting with Kerry, a senior Israeli official said. Analysts and commentators said Netanyahu was leaning towards accepting the framework, but so far the Palestinians have rejected any attempt to extend the deadline, denouncing Kerry’s ideas as biased in Israel’s favour and unworkable. On Sunday, Netanyahu vowed he would “insist on Israel’s vital interests” and withstand pressure. But on arrival, he found Obama had also laid the ground for their meeting, telling Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that without a peace deal, “continued aggressive settlement construction” would expose Israel to further international isolation.
The question of settlement construction was further hammered home Monday with the publication of figures showing new construction starts in West Bank settlements increased by 123.7 percent in 2013.
“It’s official, the Netanyahu government is committed to only one thing: building settlements,” settlement watchdog Peace Now said in response.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Washington will demand a partial freeze on construction in isolated settlements outside the major West Bank blocs in a bid to ensure the Palestinians remain at the negotiating table.
 
Meanwhile, an Israeli air strike on the northern Gaza Strip Monday killed a Palestinian and injured three others, Gaza emergency services chief Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP. He said that Musaad Alzaneen, in his early twenties, was killed in the strike on farmland near the town of Beit Hanoun. With time running out for a framework Israeli-Palestinian deal to salvage a troubled US-brokered peace process, Obama and Netanyahu sparred in public comments in the run-up to a meeting that comes at a critical juncture for the president’s second-term foreign policy agenda. Netanyahu arrived in Washington to a veiled warning from Obama that it would be harder to protect Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if peace efforts failed.
 
Signalling that Obama’s overture could fall on deaf ears, Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office on Monday, put the onus on Palestinians to advance prospects for peace and vowed to hold the line during his visit to Washington. “We need to stand firm on our crucial interests. I’ve proven that I’m doing that, against all pressure and all uncertainty, and I’ll continue to do that here as well,” the right-wing Israeli leader said. He is due to meet Obama at 1:45 pm EST (1845 GMT). Differences between Obama and Netanyahu are expected to be even more pronounced in the Oval Office meeting over US strategy in nuclear talks with Iran. Obama is seeking room for diplomacy, while Netanyahu says sanctions on Tehran are being eased prematurely.
 
At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to persuade Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a framework deal that would enable troubled land-for-peace negotiations to continue beyond an April target date for a final accord. Abbas is due at the White House on March 17. “When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?” Obama, using Netanyahu’s nickname and borrowing from the Jewish rabbinical sage Hillel, said in an interview with Bloomberg View. Obama’s warning of a potential “international fallout” for Israel if peace efforts break down and the building of Jewish settlements continues raised hackles in Israel, where he was accused of trying to squeeze concessions. Israelis are increasingly concerned about an anti-Israel boycott movement.
 

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