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Obama to press Palestinians on peace talks

The U.S. president said he would pressure Palestinians to match Israeli concessions as he tries to negotiate a framework for peace talks

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U.S. President Barack Obama promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he would pressure Palestinians to match Israeli concessions as he tries to negotiate a framework for peace talks.

One of those conciliations includes Palestine’s recognition of the Israeli state, something Netanyahu directly urged Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to do on Tuesday.

Addressing delegates at the annual policy conference of AIPAC, the Israeli leader said Palestine must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and to “abandon the fantasy” of flooding Israel with refugees.

Israel has repeatedly insisted there will be no peace deal without addressing the issue of recognition and a clause relating to this has been inserted into Kerry's as-yet-unpublished framework proposal.

But the Palestinians have refused to back down, rejecting Kerry's inclusion of the clause in the framework as "unacceptable."

Top Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told AFP that Netanyahu's demand for such recognition, and his insistence on keeping Israeli troops deployed in a future Palestinian state were "totally rejected."

For the Palestinians, the issue is intimately entwined with the fate of their refugees who were forced out of their homes or fled in 1948 when Israel became a state. They see Netanyahu's demand as a way to sidestep a negotiated solution to the refugee question.

His words sparked an immediate backlash from Ramallah.

Top Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told AFP that Netanyahu's demand for such recognition, and his insistence on keeping Israeli troops deployed in a future Palestinian state were "totally rejected."

In rare positive remarks by Netanyahu, he referenced opportunities the peace deal would open up, including "the possibility of establishing formal ties with between Israel and leading countries of the Arab world.

"Peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships," he said in positive remarks more commonly heard from reputed moderates like Israeli President Shimon Peres.

He did, however, have harsher rhetoric for the Palestinian-led movement to boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) Israel over its activities in the occupied territories.

"The BDS movement is not about legitimate criticism, it's about making Israel illegitimate," he said. "That movement will fail."

Obama used the meeting with Netanyahu to underline how he saw the U.S. peace push as a key opportunity for both the Israeli leader and the Israeli people, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. president said in an interview with a Bloomberg View columnist that he would press Netanyahu that time was of the essence to reach a frame work so that peace talks could continue beyond the U.S. imposed end of April deadline.

He paraphrased his message to Netanyahu as "If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?"

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will be in Washington in two weeks for a similar meeting with the U.S. President.

(AFP)