Obama: Palestinian plan to form state at UN isn't realistic

US president tells BBC that the Hamas-Fatah unity gov't is a "problem"; notes Israelis need to defend territory, particularly after Gaza, Lebanon rockets; tells BBC he'd order bin Laden-like raid again.

Obama 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Obama 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
US President Barack Obama on Sunday used language much more accommodating of Israeli concerns, while defending his previous call for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to be based on 1967 lines. In an interview with the BBC aired Sunday, Obama said that the Hamas-Fatah plan to ask for recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN in September is a "problem."
"I do think it's a problem for two reasons," Obama told the BBC. "Number one, Hamas still hasn't recognized Israel's right to exist and renounce violence, and recognize that negotiations are the right path for solving this problem. And it's very difficult for Israel in a realistic way to say we're going to sit across the table from somebody who denies our right to exist. And so that's an issue that the Palestinians are going to have to resolve."
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Asked whether he would veto or support the Palestinian request for statehood at the UN, Obama avoided a clear answer, instead saying that efforts to try to solve the issue in the UN is "simply unrealistic."
"They've got to make a decision, first of all, in what is the official position of a unified Palestinian authority about how they're dealing with Israel. Because if they can't get past that barrier, it's going to be very hard for a negotiation to take place."
"And you know, we've said directly to the Palestinians. So I'm not saying anything to you that we haven't said privately. That whatever happens in the United Nations, you are going to have to talk to the Israelis if you are going to have a state in which your people have self-determination. You are not going to be able to do an end run around the Israelis."
Obama added that whatever efforts the Palestinians do take in September will be "symbolic."
"We've seen a lot of these sort of symbolic efforts before. They're not something that the United States is going to be particularly sympathetic towards, simply because we think it avoids the real problems with that have to be resolved between the two parties."
During the interview, Obama also made references to facts-on-the-ground regarding settlement blocs located beyond the Green Line.
He noted that leaders in Jerusalem are wary of creating a situation like that in Gaza and southern Lebanon, where rockets rained down on Israel following military withdrawals.
"The basis for negotiations will involve looking at that 1967 border, recognizing that conditions on the ground have changed and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides," the US president said in the BBC interview.
"On the other hand," Obama said, "and this was an equally important part of the speech, Israel is going to have to feel confident on its security on the West Bank, and that security element is going to be important to the Israelis."
In order to be willing to move forward, he explained, Israelis must be able to "defend their own territory, particularly with what has happened in Gaza and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah."
The position of the United States, Obama added, is "let's get started on a conversation about territory and about security." Doing so, he admitted, "doesn't solve all of the problems. You still have the issue of Jerusalem and of refugees."
But as progress is made on "what two states would look like and a reality sets in with the parties, then it becomes easier for both sides to make concessions to resolve those two other issues," the US president told the BBC.
Obama also discussed the covert military operation that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden earlier this month. Asked if he would do the same again if the United States discovered another "high-value target" in Pakistan or another country, such as a senior al-Qaida member or Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, he said he would "take the shot".
"We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan. But we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies' people, we can't allow those kind of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action," Obama said.
Reuters contributed to this report.