Obama prods Israel, Palestinians to restart talks

From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas greet each other.
President Obama on Tuesday prodded Israel and the Palestinian Authority to get moving on talks aimed at a permanent resolution of their decades-old conflict.

“Simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward,” Obama told reporters before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that is necessary to achieve our goals,” Obama said. Obama first met separately with Netanyahu and Abbas on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in what he called “frank and productive” talks. The session was the first among the three leaders since Obama took office in January. Obama’s is the latest in a long line of U.S. administrations to press for a settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian population in territories it has occupied since the 1967 Mideast war. Obama: ‘We have to find a way forward’ Recent hopes for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks have dimmed despite the diplomatic efforts of George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy for the Middle East. But Obama told reporters that talks on a permanent resolution of the conflict, including the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, “must begin and begin soon.”

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“My message to these two leaders is clear: Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward,” he said. “We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward, and then stepping back.” The United States and Israel have publicly disagreed on Israeli plans to build more housing on land the Palestinians regard as theirs. Obama administration demands for a complete freeze have been ignored by the Netanyahu government. Abbas has so far rejected resuming talks with Israel until the Jewish state halts all settlement building in the occupied West Bank and in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Obama said Palestinians have boosted their security efforts, “but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations.” Israel has eased restrictions on Palestinian travel and talked about limiting settlements, “but they need to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues,” he said.