WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel and the Palestinians don’t have "a moment to lose" in pursuing peace, President Barack Obama said, while recognizing political obstacles on both sides.
Obama spoke May 28 after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, just over a week after he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"In my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu I was very clear about the need to stop the settlements; to make sure that we are stopping the building of outposts; to work with the Palestinian Authority in order to alleviate some of the pressures that the Palestinian people are under in terms of travel and commerce, so that we can initiate some of the economic development plans that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said are so important on the ground," Obama said. "And that conversation only took place last week.
"I think that we don’t have a moment to lose, but I also don’t make decisions based on just the conversation that we had last week because obviously Prime Minister Netanyahu has to work through these issues in his own government, in his own coalition, just as President Abbas has a whole host of issues that he has to deal with."
Obama repeatedly stressed his commitment to attend to the issue. "I don’t want to put an artificial timetable, but I do share President Abbas’s feelings and I believe that many Israelis share the same view that time is of the essence, that we can’t continue with a drift," he said. Abbas also insisted that "time is of the essence."
Netanyahu has said he is willing to restart talks immediately, but also believes the more urgent priority is containing Iran’s nuclear threat.
Obama called on Abbas to continue improving security in the West Bank, where his Palestinian Authority is in control. "Those security steps need to continue because Israel has to have some confidence that security in the West Bank is in place in order for us to advance this process," he said.
The U.S. president praised Abbas for standing fast in unity talks with Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and insisting that any such government recognize Israel, disavow terrorism and abide by previous agreements.
Obama also pressed Abbas to roll back anti-Israel incitement, particularly in the schools.