Just caught this. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy guru and deputy national security advisor, in a press gaggle with reporters last week on Air Force One:
“And the fact of the matter is, there’s no more difficult issue in the world. There’s a reason why it has not been solved for decades. But its importance is indisputable to U.S. interest, to Israel’s interest and security, to the Palestinian interest in achieving an independent state.”
Q How optimistic are you that Secretary Kerry is making progress in the Middle East versus sort of acting on his own hopes that there will be progress without evidence that there really is?
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, Secretary Kerry has been very active in the Middle East at the direction of the President. When the President went to Israel and met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, gave a speech in Jerusalem that touched upon the importance of making peace, he then signaled that Secretary Kerry would take the lead on this issue for the administration going forward.
And the fact of the matter is, there’s no more difficult issue in the world. There’s a reason why it has not been solved for decades. But its importance is indisputable to U.S. interest, to Israel’s interest and security, to the Palestinian interest in achieving an independent state.
And what Secretary Kerry has been able to do over the course of the last several weeks is methodically work with both parties to try to bring them closer together so that if they get into a negotiation, it can deal with the core, fundamental issues. And so the point here is what can be done so that if the parties do come back into talks, there’s a chance that those can succeed and that we know that they’re focused on the final status issues that need to be addressed for there to be a resolution. And so we want to make sure that work is done before you would have that type of formal negotiation, and that’s what he’s been doing. And as he indicated yesterday, he believes that the parties have come much closer together, that they have reached, through their discussions with him, a better understanding of what would have to inform talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but he’s going to keep at it. He’ll be returning to the region in the near future.
Q Are Abbas and Netanyahu going to meet?
MR. RHODES: I will leave that to them to announce. I think right now the focus, though, is to figure out a way not just for them to meet, but to make sure that any negotiation addresses final status issues so that it has the potential to actually solve this very protracted issue.