WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama urged Israel to forge a peace in the
Middle East as revolution roils the region, following a meeting with President
Shimon Peres at the White House Tuesday.
“With the winds of change
blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize
the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the
Israelis,” Obama said following their meeting, which included a private
45-minute conversation and a lunch
where they were joined by officials from both
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Obama praised Peres as “an extraordinary statesman” who shared
“some very interesting ideas” about the peace process during his visit, his
second to the Obama White House.
At the Blair House after their meeting,
Peres, too, referred to “ideas” of moving forward with a peace plan, but
declined to flesh them out, or explain how they related to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s own thinking about such a plan.
An aide said,
however, that both Peres and Obama agreed that it was important to have an
actual negotiating process, not simply another ceremony.
emphasized, “We must bring an end to the conflict that serves the interests of
He also emphasized the important role the Americans played
in achieving that goal, saying, “We would not want the Middle East peace process
to continue without us.”
Peres, meanwhile, warned the Europeans – who are
seen as taking a more active role in the Quartet as the body looks at how to
prod the sides forward – against making an effort to force a solution on the
“If they try to impose a solution, they will stand with only one
side,” he declared.
In his meeting with Obama, Peres also brought up the
case of Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel and jailed for 25
years, and asked for clemency on humanitarian grounds. Peres noted that
Obama hadn’t indicated his position on the matter.
However, he said the
two saw eye-to-eye on Iran, with both men agreeing that the West should exploit
the opportunity posed by the Middle East upheaval to work against Tehran. Peres
called for further sanctions and for continuing to make the moral case against
the current Iranian regime.
He expressed optimism about the changes in
the region, saying, “It is a great opportunity, and we will do whatever we can”
to help them succeed.
Still, he and Obama noted the risks, and the
importance of Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge.
spoke of US commitment to Israel’s security, including a sale of F-35s,
investment in the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system, and strategic
During his visit, Peres thanked Obama for the veto
against the UN Security Resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction,
and noted that Obama expressed “steadfast opposition to any attempt to
delegitimize Israel in any international forum.” Similarly, Peres thanked Obama
for alone supporting Israel against the “blood libel” of the UN-sponsored
Goldstone Report alleging that Israel committed war crimes in
Peres visited with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton soon after
arriving on Monday afternoon and was set to meet with US Vice President Joe
Biden later Tuesday.
He will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with
Democratic and Republican leaders on Wednesday before departing for New
The State Department, meanwhile, sharply criticized Israel’s
continuing construction in settlements and plans to build 942 new housing units
in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
“The United States is deeply concerned
by continuing Israeli actions with respect to settlement construction,” a State
Department official said.
“On top of other recent announcements, Israel
has announced approval of four master plans for [existing] settlements in the
West Bank. Not only are continued Israeli settlements illegitimate, Israel’s
actions run counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations,” the official
“We are also deeply concerned about the announcement of
approval for up to 950 new units in Jerusalem,” added the official. “As we have
said, we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties should
mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both sides for
Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the
“Ultimately, the lack of a resolution to this conflict harms
Israel, harms the Palestinians and harms the interests of the United States and
the international community. We will continue to press ahead with the
parties to resolve the core issues in the context of a peace agreement.”
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