- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2014

President Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday that “tough decisions” must be made to move forward with Palestinian peace talks, but the Israeli leader countered that the Palestinians aren’t bargaining in good faith.

During a meeting in the Oval Office, the president commended Mr. Netanyahu on “painstaking” negotiations with the U.S. aimed at creating a Palestinian state. But Mr. Obama’s comments also indicated that the administration-imposed deadline of April for completing a framework for talks is rapidly approaching.

“Tough decisions will have to be made,” Mr. Obama said. “It is still possible to create two states, but it is difficult and requires compromise from both sides.”

Mr. Netanyahu told the president that the Palestinians aren’t cooperating, saying they refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has been doing its part and I regret to say that the Palestinians have not,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “What we want is peace. Mr. President, I think it is about time for the Palestinian people to recognize a state for the Jewish people. In the Middle East, the only peace that can endure is the peace we can defend. The people of Israel expect me to stay strong for the future of the only Jewish state.”

Mr. Netanyahu is in town to give the keynote speech Tuesday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, a forum he has used in the past to air his dissatisfaction with the Obama administration.

The two leaders also discussed Iran, with Mr. Obama saying it’s his “absolute commitment” that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons. Mr. Netanyahu opposes a U.S.-brokered deal that is easing international sanctions against Iran in exchange for rolling back its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden also were in the Oval Office meeting.

Mr. Netanyahu also met Monday with congressional leaders of both parties. Later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, wrote a joint letter urging Mr. Obama to keep “all options on the table” with Iran, including military action and deeper sanctions.

“Iran’s history of delay, deception, and dissembling on its nuclear program raises serious concerns that Iran will use prolonged negotiations as a tool to secure an economic lifeline while it continues to make progress toward a nuclear weapon,” the lawmakers wrote. “Iran’s leaders must understand that further sanctions relief will require Tehran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon and fully disclose its nuclear activities.”