US House Majority leader Steny Hoyer praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, called for the Palestinian Authority to drop any preconditions to negotiations, and said that Congress differentiated between building in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank, during an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Hoyer, currently in the country leading a delegation of 29 Democratic legislators, also said the rhetoric coming out of the Fatah General Assembly in Bethlehem was "unfortunate."
The delegation, sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, arrived on Sunday evening and met Monday with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.
Lieberman told the group that the continued control of Gaza by Hamas, along with the rhetoric coming out of the Fatah conference in Bethlehem, essentially buried chances of peace for the near future.
"I think that kind of pessimism, while perhaps realistic, is not helpful to moving the ball forward," Hoyer said, adding that he viewed the Fatah conference as PA President Mahmoud Abbas's effort to charge up the faithful and reenergize his followers.
Still, Hoyer said he thought "some of the rhetoric was very unfortunate in the sense that it re-instilled a sense of confrontation and resistance, instead of being more positive and talking about what steps were needed to move forward."
Hoyer, who will meet with Abbas on Wednesday, noted that Abbas himself had said recently that the situation in the West Bank was much improved.
"I think that had there been a more positive tone to the conference, it would have been more helpful," he said. "As General Dayton said, it is a political convention. He said it was a 'convention of politicians,' so he didn't put a lot of stock in the words."
At the same time, Hoyer said one of his messages to Abbas would be that he needed to change the rhetoric. Another message would be that he drop preconditions for starting negotiations with the Netanyahu government.
Abbas has said that Israel must freeze settlement construction before he will sit down with the prime minister.
Hoyer, an important ally of US President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill, said this was a mistake and that just as Abbas had not had preconditions for talks with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, he should not have any preconditions now, either.
"It is time for him to reach for peace, without preconditions," Hoyer said.
Citing Netanyahu's acceptance of a two-state solution, as well as the removal of all but 14 roadblocks in the West Bank, Hoyer said, "There have been some very positive things that have happened under Netanyahu, and I think that Abbas ought to take the opportunity to engage with Netanyahu without preconditions. Both peoples need and want peace; their leaders ought to facilitate that." Read more here....