Obama: Israeli gov’t holding back Netanyahu on peace moves

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being held back by his coalition in trying to make peace moves.

Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla., was asked why his administration continues to support Israel and Egypt despite their "human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people."

Obama started his answer by describing Israel as "one of our strongest allies" and a "vibrant democracy," and said "we will never waver from ensuring Israel’s security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region."

However, he said attention must be paid to "the plight of the Palestinians" and that "Israel has to acknowledge legitimate grievances and interests of the Palestinians." Of both Israel and the Palestinians, Obama said the politics are "difficult."

"The Israel government came in based on the support of a lot of folks who don’t want to make a lot of concessions," the U.S. leader said. "I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually making some effort to try to move a little bit further than his coalition wants him to go."

While Netanyahu’s government has acceded to some internal pressure to add housing in parts of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, he has frozen building in other areas.

The Palestinian Authority does not want to return to talks without a total freeze on settlement building.

Obama also said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "genuinely wants peace, has to deal with Hamas, an organization that has not recognized Israel and has not disavowed violence."

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