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(photo credit: AP)
Although the US needs to maintain its "strong support" for Israel, Washington also has to be "honest" with Israel regarding the direction in which the region is heading, even if this includes resorting to tough love, US President Barack Obama said Monday, three days before a highly-anticipated address to the Arab world in Egypt.
"I don't think we have to change strong support for Israel," Obama said in an interview with NPR. "We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace, and that's going to require, from my view, a two-state solution."
The president reiterated his view that pursuing a two-state solution would also require imposing a total freeze on Israeli construction over the green line, including putting a halt to expansion attributed to natural growth. He also voiced understanding for Israeli apprehensions, saying Palestinians would have to fight terror and end "the incitement that understandably makes Israelis so concerned."
"What I'd say there's no doubt that the US has a special relationship with Israel," he continued. "There are a lot of Israelis who used to be American. There is huge cross-cultural ties between the two countries. I think that as a vibrant democracy that shares many of our values obviously we're deeply sympathetic to Israel."
However, Obama said, "Part of being a good friend is being honest, and I think there have been times where we were not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also US interests. And that's part of a new dialogue that I'd like to see encouraged in the region."
"The United States has to follow through on what it says," the US president told NPR. "It is important for us to be clear about what we believe will lead to peace - and that there's not equivocation, and there's not a sense that we expect only compromise on one side. It's going to have to be two-sided, and I don't think anybody would deny that in theory."
On Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the US demands to freeze all building east of the Green Line as "unreasonable," adding that he was "still unclear" as to what exactly the United States was demanding of Israel regarding construction in the settlements.
The prime minister, briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on his recent trip to Washington, said, "It is likely that we are not going to reach an agreement with the Americans" regarding settlement construction, but did his best to portray his meeting with US Obama in a positive light.
When asked whether Israel "not taking" the advice of the US regarding settlements had a negative impact on Washington's move to restore its relationship with the Arab and Muslim world, Obama said it was still too early to make such statements regarding the newly inaugurated government in Jerusalem.
"It's still early in the process," Obama said "They've formed a government, what, a month ago? We're going to have a series of conversations.
"I believe that strategically, the status quo is unsustainable when it comes to Israel's security. Over time, in the absence of peace with Palestinians, Israel will continue to be threatened militarily and will have enormous problems on its borders," Obama said.
Asked about whether his decision to give diplomacy with Iran a chance would also allow for similar dialogue with Teheran's proxies in the region, Hamas and Hizbullah, the US president replied, "Iran is a huge, significant nation-state that has, across the international community, been recognized as such. Hizbullah and Hamas are not. I don't think we have to approach those entities in the same way."