A deadline fast approaching, President Obama is seeking to ease the logjam in elusive Mideast peace talks and keep Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from walking away, despite few signs that either Palestinians or Israelis are prepared to budge on key sticking points.

Obama's White House meeting with the longtime Palestinian leader Monday marks a renewed foray into a diplomatic minefield that the president has mostly left up to his secretary of state, John Kerry. While Kerry remains deeply involved, his attention is split among multiple undertakings in the Middle East — not to mention a crisis in Ukraine that's consumed Obama's national security team.

With just weeks left before a U.S.-imposed April deadline for completing a framework for peace talks expires, Obama is inserting himself in the process with fresh vigor, hoping that presidential pressure might salvage the talks despite a growing sense of pessimism on both sides. Just two weeks ago, Obama held a similar meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he urged Israel to make the "tough decisions" needed to move forward.

Absent signs of progress, attention has turned to whether the parties might agree to extend the deadline if a formal framework can't be forged in time.

Aaron David Miller, a Mideast peace negotiator under presidents of both parties, said both Abbas and Netanyahu have an incentive to stick with the talks — if only to avoid bearing the blame if the effort falters. After all, both Israelis and Palestinians have spent countless hours in direct and indirect contact, in what Kerry has warned could be the last chance for peace before demographics and fast-growing Israeli settlements make the conflict nearly impossible to solve.

"Nobody wants to admit the emperor has no clothes. Nobody wants the talks to collapse," Miller said. "Kerry may or may not end up with a piece of paper, but he has skillfully created an investment trap in which both Abbas and Netanyahu will agree to continue negotiations."

In the Oval Office meeting, Obama will tell Abbas that compromise toward a final agreement will ultimately benefit the Palestinians, said a senior administration official, who wasn't authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity. Obama will also make the case that direct talks with Israel are the only path to a sovereign Palestinian state. After the meeting, Kerry and his negotiating team will keep consulting with Israelis and Palestinians in hopes of "narrowing the gaps," the official said.					
Aug 10 2017, 09:19

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