Obama meets with Peres, calls for urgent peace efforts

‘With winds of change blowing through Arab world...we [must] try to seize opportunity to create peaceful solution' US president says.

President Peres with US President Obama 311 (GPO) (photo credit: Mark Neyman / GPO)
President Peres with US President Obama 311 (GPO)
(photo credit: Mark Neyman / GPO)
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 sides.
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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.
Still, he emphasized, “We must bring an end to the conflict that serves the interests of the enemies.”
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 sides.
“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.
They 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 weapons systems.
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 Gaza.
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 York.
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 continued.
“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 world.
“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.”