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87 senators urge Obama to pressure Abbas

Now that the Israeli settlement moratorium has expired, the world is looking to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to see if he will follow through on his threats to step away from the negotiating table. Here in Washington, lawmakers are looking to President Barack Obama to lean on Abbas to stay put. Eighty-seven U.S. senators have ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Now that the Israeli settlement moratorium has expired, the world is looking to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to see if he will follow through on his threats to step away from the negotiating table. Here in Washington, lawmakers are looking to President Barack Obama to lean on Abbas to stay put.

Eighty-seven U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, which was initially circulated only three days ago, calling on Obama to publicly pressure Abbas to continue with the direct peace talks begun Sept. 1 in Washington.

The senators sent the letter (PDF) to Obama on Monday. It stated that "Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started," a thinly veiled reference to Abbas’s multiple statements that he would leave the talks if the moratorium was not extended.

The senators also praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for staying at the table even though the beginning of the process was marred by violence.

"Following the brutal murder of four innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas militants at the start of the negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not abandon the talks," the senators wrote. "We also agree with you [Obama] that it is critical that all sides stay at the table."

Abbas isn’t showing his cards yet, and has promised not to make any decisions about whether to continue the negotiations until after he consults with the Arab League on Oct. 4.

The senators’ letter also called on the Arab League to do more to support the Palestinian Authority.

Some pro-Israel groups in Washington, which have perceived Obama as willing to publicly pressure Netanyahu but not Abbas, are lending their support to the senators’ message.

"AIPAC strongly applauds this overwhelming, bipartisan statement supporting these important direct talks, and making crystal clear to President Abbas that staying at the table — without preconditions or threats — is the only path to peace," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Now that the Israeli settlement moratorium has expired, the world is looking to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to see if he will follow through on his threats to step away from the negotiating table. Here in Washington, lawmakers are looking to President Barack Obama to lean on Abbas to stay put.

Eighty-seven U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, which was initially circulated only three days ago, calling on Obama to publicly pressure Abbas to continue with the direct peace talks begun Sept. 1 in Washington.

The senators sent the letter (PDF) to Obama on Monday. It stated that "Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started," a thinly veiled reference to Abbas’s multiple statements that he would leave the talks if the moratorium was not extended.

The senators also praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for staying at the table even though the beginning of the process was marred by violence.

"Following the brutal murder of four innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas militants at the start of the negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not abandon the talks," the senators wrote. "We also agree with you [Obama] that it is critical that all sides stay at the table."

Abbas isn’t showing his cards yet, and has promised not to make any decisions about whether to continue the negotiations until after he consults with the Arab League on Oct. 4.

The senators’ letter also called on the Arab League to do more to support the Palestinian Authority.

Some pro-Israel groups in Washington, which have perceived Obama as willing to publicly pressure Netanyahu but not Abbas, are lending their support to the senators’ message.

"AIPAC strongly applauds this overwhelming, bipartisan statement supporting these important direct talks, and making crystal clear to President Abbas that staying at the table — without preconditions or threats — is the only path to peace," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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