Obama presses Israel, Palestinians on West Bank

May 28, 2009 4:46:15 PM PDT
Gingerly trying to advance Mideast peace, President Barack Obama declared on Thursday the U.S. is a "stalwart ally" of Israel but challenged the Israelis to stop settlement construction in the disputed West Bank to help advance the long and painful road to peace with the Palestinians. Obama's message came on the same day that Israel refused a demand to freeze all construction in the West Bank, land the Palestinians hope to claim for a future nation of their own. The president stuck to a hopeful tone, saying he had pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter only last week.

"I think it's important not to assume the worst, but to assume the best," Obama said in the Oval Office, sitting alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama said Netanyahu needed time to work on the issue back home, and the U.S. president said he was not willing to base his decisions on a week-old conversation.

Obama and Abbas met privately before being joined by their delegations.

The U.S. president made clear he expected commitments to be upheld by the Palestinians, too, including enhanced security in the West Bank so that Israelis have confidence they're safe there. Obama said he asked Abbas to reduce anti-Israeli sentiments that can be easily stoked in schools, mosques and the public square.

Said Abbas: "We are fully committed to all of our obligations."

Obama, like predecessor George W. Bush, embraces a multifaceted Mideast peace plan that calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Obama refused to set a timetable for such a nation but also noted he has not been slow to get involved in meeting with both sides and pushing the international community for help.

"We can't continue with the drift, with the increased fear and resentment on both sides, the sense of hopelessness around the situation that we've seen for many years now," Obama said. "We need to get this thing back on track."


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