Obama Says Mideast Peace Deal Demands Steps From Both Sides

A Mideast peace agreement leading to an independent Palestinian state can’t be achieved without both sides giving ground, President Barack Obama said today as he urged new ways of approaching the conflict.

Obama said he made clear in meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that West Bank settlement expansion is not “constructive” and that there’s been no confusion in the U.S. position. At the same time, he told Abbas that he can’t expect to hold direct negotiations with “everything settled ahead of time.”

“Even though we know what compromises have to be made in order to achieve peace it’s hard to admit that those compromises need to be made,” Obama said today at a press conference in Ramallah alongside Abbas. “People want to cling on to their old positions and want to have 100 percent of what they want or 95 percent of what they want instead of making the necessary compromises.”

Obama visited the West Bank to see firsthand if Palestinian leaders, still angry over his rejection of their United Nations statehood bid, could be persuaded to renew peace talks with Israel. Just hours before he touched down in Ramallah, four rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, with one hitting a courtyard in the southern town of Sderot, causing damage but no injuries, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said by telephone.

Obama’s Challenge

The president’s remarks in Ramallah underscored the challenges of balancing his messages to the Israeli and Palestinian public on a trip where the primary goal has been to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance and ease tensions with Netanyahu.

“There is a sense he was gently chiding Abbas by saying that while the U.S. opposes settlement activity, that shouldn’t be a reason for not talking,” said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. “But it is a very, very mild chiding.”

The U.S. president’s meetings with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were sandwiched between a morning stop in Jerusalem where he viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls -- artifacts Palestinians regard as stolen from occupied territory -- and an afternoon speech to young Israelis at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

Danger Signal

Israeli settlement expansion remains a barrier, Abbas said. Young Palestinians “do not trust the two-state solutions or vision anymore and this is very dangerous.” While he didn’t elaborate, there have been recent signs of growing unrest in the West Bank that Abbas controls.

The last round of peace negotiations stalled over the Palestinians’ demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli- occupied territories they see as the core of a future state, which would also include Gaza. Israel says there must be no conditions to talks.

Mukhemer Abu Sada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University, said he was discouraged by what appeared to be an easing of the U.S. opposition to Israeli settlement construction.

“He retreated from his position,” Abu Sada said by phone from Gaza, referring to Obama’s speech in Cairo four years ago, when the president said it was time for the settlements to stop.

Rocket Attack

Obama said the rocket attacks from Gaza earlier in the day show why Israelis are reluctant to make concessions before formal talks begin.

“The Israelis have concerns about rockets flying into their cities last night,” Obama said. “It would be easy for them to say, ‘You see, this is why we can’t have peace, because, you know, we can’t afford to have our kids in bed sleeping and suddenly a rocket comes through the roof.’”

Obama won’t visit Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, which is classified by the U.S., Israel and the European Union as a terrorist group.

Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said Obama’s remarks in Ramallah showed that the president intends to be proactive in getting the Israel-Palestinian conflict resolved. “It may take awhile before we see manifestation, but there is a big emphasis on finding a solution,” Miller said by telephone.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in Jerusalem at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net; Margaret Talev in Ramallah at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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