Peace has to start with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, indicated US President Barack Obama in an interview conducted by New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist Thomas Friedman.
In the interview, which appeared in print and on video Friday night, Obama said an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal requires the leadership on both sides “to look beyond tomorrow” and take “the long view on things.”
Obama signaled that Netanyahu’s high approval ratings—which have jumped in the wake of Israel’s month-long military offensive in Gaza—could prevent him from making the concessions needed to reach a long-term deal: “If he doesn’t feel some internal pressure, then it’s hard to see him being able to make some very difficult compromises,” like on the issue of settlements, the president said.
For Abbas, “It’s a slightly different problem,” Obama said: “In some ways, Bibi [Netanyahu] is too strong [and] in some ways [Abbas] is too weak to bring them together and make the kinds of bold decisions that [former Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat or [Israeli prime ministers] Begin or Rabin were willing to make.”
The president said he was not worried about Israel’s survival in the future because of the county’s military capabilities, but rather about how it survives, and if it would preserve its democratic and civic traditions.
Israel needs to find a way to coexist in peace with the Palestinians, Obama said, if it wants to preserve the values on which the State of Israel was founded. “You have to recognize that [the Palestinians] have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well,” he added.
Obama also weighed in on other hot-button issues, such as policies vis-à-vis Iraq, Syria, Iran, Russia and Ukraine.