Obama warns Trump on Israel

“I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious talks between Israelis and Palestinians.”

January 18, 2017 22:35
2 minute read.

Obama says chances waning for two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace deal

Obama says chances waning for two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace deal

WASHINGTON – In his final session with reporters as president, Barack Obama defended his policy choices on Israel and warned his successor, Donald Trump, to “think through” major shifts that may disrupt the region.

After facing a bipartisan rebuke in the House of Representatives for his decision to abstain from a UN Security Council vote condemning Israel over its settlement enterprise last month, Obama defended the move as a shot across Israel’s bow – a “signal, a wake-up call, that this moment may be passing” for a two-state solution to be a realistic scenario.

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“I continue to be significantly worried about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and I am worried about it both because I think the status quo is unsustainable,” Obama said, “that it is dangerous for Israel, that it is bad for the Palestinians, that it is bad for the region and it is bad for national security.

“I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “Ultimately, what has always been clear is that we cannot force the parties to arrive at peace.”

Obama exits office on Friday with a 60% approval rating among Americans, but with historically low favorability ratings among Israelis – in the single digits – who believe that he abandoned them at the United Nations, a body seen in the country as hostile and biased against it.

The outgoing president said that the administration failed to make progress on Middle East peace “in light of shifts in Israeli politics and in Palestinian politics – a rightward shift in Israeli politics, [and] a weakening of [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas’s ability to make risks on behalf of peace.”

“I don’t see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy, because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion you are extending an occupation – functionally you have one state,” Obama said.

The incoming Trump administration has sent mixed signals over its position on the feasibility of the two-state solution, with some of its national security nominees – including his choice for UN envoy, Nikki Haley, for defense secretary, James Mattis and for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson – expressing support for such an outcome. But Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has often voiced skepticism.

In accepting the nomination, Friedman declared he would be proud to serve as envoy from Israel's eternal capital– Jerusalem– where he hopes to facilitate the relocation of America's embassy from Tel Aviv.

Asked if he had consulted Trump on the move, Obama urged caution.

"When sudden unilateral moves are made that speak to the core issues or sensitivities of either side, that can be explosive," Obama said.

Obama acknowledged Trump’s choice in Friedman sent a message that a policy change is likely planned. But he warned against a hasty shift.

“I think my views are clear – we’ll see how their approach plays itself out,” Obama said. “It’s right and appropriate for a new president to test old assumptions... [but] if you’re going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you’ve thought it through.

"The actions we take have enormous ramifications and consequences," he added. “Obviously, it’s a volatile environment."

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