The Cable

Obama and Peres link peace process to Arab revolution

President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres discussed how the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fits into the wave of democratization sweeping through the Arab world during a working lunch and then a 40 minute one-on-one meeting on Tuesday.. "We had an extensive discussion about what’s happened in the Middle East," Obama said at a press ...

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President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres discussed how the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fits into the wave of democratization sweeping through the Arab world during a working lunch and then a 40 minute one-on-one meeting on Tuesday..

"We had an extensive discussion about what’s happened in the Middle East," Obama said at a press conference after the meetings. "I think he and I both share a belief that this is both a challenge and an opportunity; that with the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis."

At the working lunch, Obama was joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, NSC Chief of Staff Brooke Anderson, NSC Senior Director Dennis Ross, incoming U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, and NSC Senior Director Puneet Talwar.

Both presidents expressed the opinion that bringing the Arab-Israeli conflict to a resolution would help the United States and Israel support democratic change in the Middle East.

"We see it as a clash between generations, a clash between those who want democracy and those who want to go backwards," an Israel official who was present at the lunch told The Cable. "One of the ways to make sure the right side wins is if there could be progress in the peace process."

The most immediate issue for Israel how to set good relations with the next government in Egypt. Obama said the two presidents discussed ways for both countries to support Egypt’s economic development as a means of supporting the Egyptian youth. Peres believes restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would also help Israel navigate its changing relationship with Egypt.

"Peres’ message is that Palestinians and Israel now have a common interest to get to negotiations, because both sides want Egypt to continue to support the peace process," the Israel official said.

But Obama, following the breakdown of the direct negotiations he and Clinton worked so hard to push forward in 2010, warned Peres that he would only try again if he first saw increased commitment from both parties.

"Obama said he’s willing to help, he’s willing to push forward, but… he wants to see that a serious effort is being made and then he will add his weight," the official explained.

Obama and Peres also addressed the issue of Iran at their meetings. Peres noted that dealing with Iran is also a moral issue, because the Islamic Republic heads the anti-democratic camp in the region. The two presidents also agreed on continuing cooperation on missile defense against the Iranian threat and the necessity of maintaining economic sanctions on Tehran. .

According to the Israeli official, Peres told Obama that Israel is increasingly concerned about the flow of Russian strategic weaponry into the region and said that Israel wants to purchase an additional 20 F-35 fighter jets.

U.S. officials at the lunch raised the touchy issue of continued Israeli settlement building, but Peres didn’t give any ground.

"Look, our policy hasn’t changed," the official said, referring to Peres’s position. "We have our differences with the administration but this has been our policy all along. We don’t agree on everything."

Peres also asked Obama to consider clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and he reminded the U.S. president that he has an open invitation to visit Israel whenever he wants.

Obama acknowledged both points but gave "no sort of reply one way or the other," the official said.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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