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U.S. has considered offering Mideast peace proposal, officials say

President Obama and aides recently discussed such an approach in light of the logjam between Palestinians and Israelis, officials say. The idea has advocates within the administration.

April 08, 2010|By Paul Richter

Reporting from Washington — President Obama and other U.S. officials have explored whether the administration should offer its own Middle East peace proposal to break the logjam between Palestinians and Israelis, officials said Wednesday.

At a time of growing frustration in the White House over the lack of a peace agreement, Obama and aides recently discussed whether the administration may need to turn to such an approach, officials said.

Two weeks ago, Obama talked about Middle East peace efforts with a number of former senior U.S. officials in Democratic and Republican administrations meeting at the White House with Gen. James L. Jones, the national security advisor.

Arguing in favor of a U.S. peace proposal were Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to President George H.W. Bush; Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Carter; Samuel R. Berger, national security advisor to President Clinton; and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, officials said.

Officials acknowledged that the idea has advocates within the Obama administration.

The idea of a forceful U.S. intervention has long been popular with some Arabs, and some Mideast experts in the United States. But it has generally alarmed Israelis and many of their American supporters, who fear that such pressure could force Israelis to compromise their security.

U.S. officials said the administration remains focused on trying to coax Israeli and Palestinian leaders to participate in indirect peace talks, with American diplomats serving as intermediaries.

Several officials said that no proposal is on the table nor is the administration trying to develop one.

Officials said Obama has taken no position on whether to prepare a U.S. peace proposal.

Philip J. Crowley, the chief State Department spokesman, told reporters: "We're prepared to play an active role once the parties get in negotiations. . . . I would steer you away from the idea that . . . we're going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties."

Obama's discussion with the former officials was first disclosed Wednesday by David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post.

Several analysts reached Wednesday said word of the administration's discussions of the idea may have been floated to shock the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into easing its hard-line stance.

The Obama administration has been trying to win a commitment from Netanyahu to halt what it views as provocative actions, such as the announcement of more Israeli construction projects in disputed East Jerusalem.

Israel's construction of settlements on land the Jewish state seized after the 1967 Middle East War caused a rift with the Obama administration.

During Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Israel last month, the government approved a 1,600-unit project in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, a move perceived by U.S. officials as an "insult."

Some U.S. officials and other Mideast experts have long argued that most of the ingredients of a peace plan have been established during decades of negotiations.

Clinton offered a peace plan during his eleventh-hour effort to reach an agreement at the end of his presidency.

But critics have argued that ultimately peace can work only if it is achieved by the parties themselves.

Some analysts have argued too that if the United States pushed a plan that failed, it would weaken American peacemaking leverage.

Obama believes that progress toward Mideast peace is crucial for all American goals in the region.

But the unveiling of a U.S. plan probably would expose him to strong criticism at home from Israel's supporters in Congress and elsewhere, as did his unsuccessful effort last year to win a full Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank.

paul.richter@latimes.com

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