A large delegation of 29 US Democratic lawmakers said during a press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday that they view Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as the biggest current impediment to peace in the region.
"I think the largest thing impeding the negotiations at this point is simply the unwillingness of Abbas to sit down [with the Israelis]," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
Abbas has refused to hold any high level negotiations with Israeli since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office over four months ago. Abbas says he will not talk to the Israeli until all Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria comes to a halt.
But Hoyer called the current focus on the natural growth of Jewish settlements a "marginal" issue that is being way overblown by Abbas, the US administration and the international media.
"The issue of natural growth in the settlements has become a large part of the story, when really it is a marginal aspect of the peace process," said Hoyer.
The remarks were seen as a further rejection of the way US President Barack Obama is handling the Middle East peace process. Barak and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made overriding pressure on Israel to stop the growth of Jewish settlements the centerpiece of their peace policy, while largely ignoring ongoing violent actions and rhetoric on the part of the Palestinians.
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