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Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama administration ditches 'Roadmap' for a get-tough peace plan

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has drafted an aggressive new U.S. strategy designed to accelerate the establishment of a Palestinian state and mandating Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.   

Administration sources said the White House was finalizing a plan that would include firm deadlines for Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian negotiations as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

"The plan is built on the premise that without firm deadlines and plenty of pressure nothing will get done," an administration source said. "Just ask the previous administration."

The reference was to the so-called Roadmap, a U.S. plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The plan was released by President George Bush in 2002.

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The sources said Obama plans to discuss portions of the new strategy with Arab and Israeli leaders in May 2009. By July, the White House intends to release the plan.

"The president will tell Arab and Israeli leaders their role in the plan and will urge their cooperation," the source said. "The hard work will begin in the implementation."

The sources said the Obama plan also envisioned U.S. and international assistance to the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Hamas regime.

On May 18, Obama was scheduled to meet visiting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Over the following week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas were scheduled to meet the president.

"I don't expect that the meeting [with Netanyahu] will be quite as contentious as you might suggest," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

The U.S. strategy has been coordinated with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which form the so-called Quartet of mediators for a Palestinian state. The sources said EU leaders have pledged to cooperate in pressing Israel and the PA to cooperate.

On May 16, a senior White House official said Obama would focus on a Palestinian state in his meeting with Netanyahu. The official said the president would demand that Israel immediately stop all construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

"The Israelis have obligations related to settlements and outposts," the official said. "It will certainly be a topic for them to discuss."

The White House has already briefed Arab leaders on the new U.S. strategy. Officials cited Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah, Saudi King Abdullah and Abbas.

Officials said the U.S. strategy would be announced after Obama's address to the Muslim world on June 4. The president was scheduled to visit Egypt to issue his message after a meeting with Mubarak in both Cairo and Washington.

"This is a framework that is being worked on at the highest level in the American administration, in the rest of the international community," Quartet chairman Tony Blair, a former British prime minister, said on May 5. "I think that within the next five to six weeks, you will have a very clear picture of what the plan is."

Administration sources confirmed Blair's assertion. They said Obama has sent envoys to such countries as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria to consider a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace plan.

"I think this is the beginning of a long effort and I think the President — I think all involved understand that, like so many issues that arrive in that office, that the solutions aren't going to be easy," Gibbs said.

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