WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry held extensive talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington Monday. The closed-door meeting at the White House was aimed at securing a framework accord between the Israelis and Palestinians that will extend negotiations beyond the current April 29 deadline.
The talks that began in July are focused on creating an independent Palestinian state and ending decades of conflict. At the beginning of the talks Monday, President Obama acknowledged that a peace deal remains elusive.
"It's very hard, it's very challenging, we are going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we are able to move it forward. My hope is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks," said Obama.
Israel's latest demand that the Palestinians should recognize it as a Jewish state is a new obstacle in the talks. President Abbas has said the Palestinians have recognized the state of Israel already but will not recognize it as a Jewish state.
"I would also like to affirm what you have said that we are working for a solution that is based on international legitimacy and also the 1967 borders so that the Palestinians can have their own independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and so that we can find a fair and lasting solution to the refugee problem," said Abbas.
Israeli construction of new settlements on territories that Palestinians want for their state, including parts of Jerusalem, is seen as the main obstacle to a deal. Israel is blaming the Palestinians for deadly attacks on its people and property.
While Washington pushed Abbas Monday to accept compromises, Palestinians in several West Bank cities rallied to demand that he resist the pressure.
"We stand today unified, thousands from the city of Hebron, to say to President Mahmoud Abbas, that we are with you to reject all the pressures, we are with you to insist on Palestinians principles on the Palestinian unified position, and for a cause that tens of thousands have died and got injured for," said Odeh Rajabi, a demonstrator in Hebron.
"The Palestinian president left Palestine saying that he is going and will not give in, will not give up on Jerusalem. And we came here today to say that we will not surrender or concede, and we will not accept extending the negotiations," said Sawsan Shaheen, a demonstrator in Ramallah.
Jim Walsh, an analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that neither side can afford to let the United States walk away from the talks.
"If there is no negotiation, what is the alternative? For the Palestinians, that means boycotts and pressure from the U.N., and that's a very difficult road. And for the Israelis, the alternative is not very good either at a time when the region is in turmoil," said Walsh.
Walsh told Alhurra television that this round of talks is likely to produce an extension of the April 29 deadline, which he said is better than no prospects of talks at all.