WASHINGTON -- President Obama plans to urge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support the U.S. framework for peace with the Palestinians when the two men meet in the Oval Office on Monday, according to aides familiar with the agenda.
But Obama may also offer tougher talk than ever before on the importance of reaching a peace agreement and ending Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories.
In an interview published by Bloomberg News on Sunday, Obama told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that the U.S. is still willing to defend Israel before the international community but that his ability to do that effectively may wane without a peace deal.
“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction -- and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
If Netanyahu doesn’t believe that a peace deal is the right thing to do for Israel, Obama told Goldberg, “then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.”
“It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible,” he added.
The remarks came on the eve of Netanyahu’s annual trip to Washington for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. Relations between the two men have never been personally warm, and now they’re complicated by recent disagreements over Iran and Syria.
Still, Secretary of State John F. Kerry downplayed the likelihood of a “showdown,” emphasizing on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that the burden of progress also rests with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu, Kerry said, has “made tough decisions with respect to entering into these negotiations and some of the things that he’s indicated he’s willing to do in the negotiations.”
“It’s also up to Abbas,” Kerry said. “The Palestinians need to decide whether or not they’re prepared to compromise, whether or not they’re willing to do some of the things necessary.”
But White House aides pointed to the Bloomberg interview -- with a strong focus on Netanyahu's role -- as a barometer of the president’s thinking.
In the hourlong interview, conducted in the Oval Office last Thursday, Obama said his message to Netanyahu would be, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?"
Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden plan to meet with Netanyahu in the Oval Office in the early afternoon. They are not scheduled to take questions from the press.