WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pushed to keep negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians alive past a late-April deadline as he met at the White House with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"We remain convinced that there is an opportunity," Obama said as he sat down Monday with Abbas in the Oval Office. Achieving a peace deal means "tough political decisions and risks" must be taken by both sides.
Abbas said time is running short and that the Palestinians suffer more than Israelis from protracted talks without a deal. "Time is not on our side," he said through a translator.
Abbas signaled that if talks are to continue Israelis must follow through on a fourth scheduled release of prisoners by March 29, saying, "This will give a very solid impression about the seriousness" of Israeli about negotiations. He said he's seeking a solution that includes East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and a solution that addresses refugees.
Palestinian resistance to a U.S. framework for talks has been hardening, and clashes last week between Gaza militants and the Israeli military have heightened tensions. Meanwhile, the Russian power play in Ukraine has absorbed U.S. attention.
"Three weeks ago, the consensus was, 'Yes, they'll find a way forward because no one really wants to walk away from this process,' " said Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official. "Now, people are saying, 'Well, maybe not.' "
The Palestinians are "digging in" over issues that include the description of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and Abbas hasn't signaled what concessions he could accept in order to keep talking, Danin said. "The hope is Abbas may be willing to be more forthcoming with Obama than he has been with [Secretary of State John] Kerry or in his public messaging so far."
A Palestinian official said Abbas might extend the talks past an April 29 deadline if Israel frees more prisoners and drops its objection to freezing settlement construction.