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Obama Calls On Israel To Compromise For Peace

  • RFE/RL

U.S. President Barack Obama has called on Israelis to recognize that compromise will be necessary to secure peace and lasting security for the Jewish state.

In a speech to university students in Jerusalem on March 21, Obama said peace in the Middle East was necessary because it is the only true path to security.

Obama said Israel was "at a crossroads" and called on the Jewish state to reverse what he called "an undertow of isolation."

He added that the only way for Israel to endure and thrive in the region as a Jewish and democratic state was through the realization of "an independent and viable Palestine."

Obama said continued Jewish settlement activity was "counterproductive" to the cause of peace, and that the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must be recognized.

"Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn," Obama said.

He said Israel had "true partners" for peace in Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayaad.

Direct peace talks between the two sides broke down in 2010, with the Palestinians walking away from the negotiations after Israel refused to extend a partial freeze on settlement building.

Obama reiterated that Israel had the "unshakeable" support of the United States.

"Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. Today, I want to tell you -- particularly the young people -- so that there is no mistake: so long as there is a United States of America, 'Ah-tem lo lah-vahd' --You are not alone."

He also demanded that the international community recognize Lebanon’s Shi'ite Hizballah militia as a "terrorist organization" for its attacks on Israelis.

Obama reiterated that the United States favors a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, but warned that Iran's time "is not unlimited."

"Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That is what America will do -- with clear eyes -- working with a world that is united, and with the sense of urgency that is required. But Iran must know this time is not unlimited," Obama said.

"And I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained. As president, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran."

At a state dinner later on March 21, President Shimon Peres presented Obama with the Medal of Distinction, Israel's highest honor.

'Vision Of Two States'

Obama is on his first official visit to Israel.

Earlier in the day, he met with Palestinian Authority President Abbas during a trip to the West Bank, where he said Israeli settlement building was not "constructive" or "appropriate" and did not "advance the cause of peace."

"The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it. Palestinians deserve to move and travel freely and to feel secure in their communities," he said at a news conference with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

"Like people everywhere, Palestinians deserve a future of hope that their rights will be respected, that tomorrow will be better than today, and that they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity," he continued. "Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own."

Both Obama and Abbas said peace between Palestinians and Israelis was possible but significant problems needed to be resolved.

Obama reaffirmed support for a Palestinian state but conceded issues such as continued construction of Jewish housing settlements and the incarceration of Palestinians in Israeli jails were formidable obstacles to peace.

"The United States remains committed to realizing the vision of two states, which is in the interests of the Palestinian people and also in the national security interests of Israel, the United States, and the world," Obama said.

"We seek an independent, a viable, and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people alongside the Jewish state of Israel -- two nations enjoying self-determination, security, and peace."

Time To Talk

Peace talks broke down in 2010 over Palestinian objections to Israel's expansion of settlements on land that Palestinians want for a state. Israel has called for a resumption of the talks without preconditions.

The U.S. president stressed the importance of getting the two sides talking again.

"If we can get direct negotiations started again, I believe that the shape of a potential deal is there," Obama said. "And if both sides can make that leap together then not only do I believe that the Israeli people and the Palestinian people would ultimately support it in huge numbers, but I also think the world and the region would cheer."

Obama arrived in Ramallah on March 21 after visiting Israel and meeting with top officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would be spending significant time trying to bridge differences between the Palestinians and Israelis.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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