Axelrod on Mideast Peace Talks: We Are at a Pivotal Juncture

David Axelrod discusses the state of Mideast peace talks

September 26, 2010— -- White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod, told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour he is hopeful Israelis and Palestinians will continue peace talks that have been in progress since August, but which are threatened by the end of a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction tonight.

"The parties are still working. They're still talking," Axelrod said in an exclusive interview. "What is most important now is that the parties are at the table, they've having serious discussions, they ought to keep on having those discussions, and we are very eager to see that happen."

Middle East peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began last month, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading the efforts to bring the parties together for direct talks. Netanyahu on Sunday called on West Bank settlers to "show restraint" following the end of the government-ordered construction slowdown, in place since last November.

"Everyone understands that these talks themselves are absolutely crucial. We're at a pivotal juncture in that region," Axelrod said. "It's important for Israel. It's important for the Palestinians. And we think it's essential that they keep on moving forward, keep on talking, keep on trying to work through these issues. And we're hopeful that they will."

In a "This Week" exclusive interview Wednesday in New York during the UN General Assembly meetings, Queen Rania of Jordan told Amanpour that Palestinians should "absolutely" continue talks with Israelis.

"Whether the moratorium continues or not, what matters to me is what actually happens on the ground," Queen Rania said. "If both sides are still talking and in the spirit of peace and these settlements are not expanded upon, then I think both sides need to be flexible. As long as they continue to talk, we need to see results."

Queen Rania is campaigning to promote moderate voices in the Arab world to counter extremists. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to make peace with Israel.

"I know there's a lot of cynicism and I know there are a lot of people that don't believe that it's going to happen," Queen Rania said. "But what's very important to emphasize is why this peace process is important, why we mustn't let cynicism or pessimism just dismiss the whole process."

Queen Rania also responded to the debate in the United States that flared in the last month over the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York, saying she was "surprised [at] how enflamed this issue became."

"At the end of the day, this is a center that is about religious harmony. It's about tolerance," Queen Rania said. "I think the major failure that is going on is an inability or refusal to make a distinction between the extremists like the bin Ladens of this world and the rest of the Muslims."

Queen Rania expressed concern at how the attacks of September 11 changed perceptions of Muslims in the United States, and called on moderate Muslims to speak up more.

"It made people more fearful of people of other religions or people who look different or dress different," Queen Rania said. "People look at the United States as a leader, in terms of religious tolerance and freedom of worship. Now the people of America need to decide, do they want to continue to play this leadership role to the rest of the world? Because even the Arab world, even the Muslim world, we look up to the United States when it comes to freedoms."

Queen Rania was in New York at the UN General Assembly for discussions on the Millennium Development Goals, a list of eight goals made in 2000 by world leaders to address issues such as maternal health, child mortality, education, gender equality, climate change and poverty.

"There has been some progress made but it's been uneven," Queen Rania said. "I think the food crisis, the economic crisis, the climate crisis -- all those have meant that in many cases we've limped, rather than leaped. So we have to re-double our efforts to make sure that we reach these goals."