National

Stern Obama prods Palestinian, Israeli leaders

NEW YORK — Bristling with impatience, President Barack Obama sternly prodded Israeli and Palestinian leaders to relaunch Mideast peace negotiations Tuesday, grasping a newly personal role in their historic standoff. He won an awkward, stone-faced handshake but no other apparent progress beyond a promise to talk about more talks.

There had been hopes for weeks that there might be more to show from the first meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since Netanyahu took office in March — perhaps even a dramatic announcement by Obama of the resumption of the Mideast peace negotiations that broke off over a year ago.

That wasn't to be. Despite months of effort, the sides remain far apart on a staunch Palestinian precondition for talks: that Israel halt all construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. Obama has publicly echoed that demand to Israeli leaders — though the Palestinians noted with displeasure that he used the word "restrain" on Tuesday rather than "halt" or "freeze."

The president hosted the two foes at his New York hotel during a marathon day of diplomacy on the sidelines of this week's United Nations General Assembly gathering. It was a high-stakes gambit that could prove to be a timely personal intervention into a decades-old dispute that Obama has made a presidential priority or a flop that damages Obama's global credibility on a broader scale.

Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, said the president took the risk because he believes the moment is uniquely ripe for progress — and because he felt an in-person display of his rising impatience could help.

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