Obama: Use flotilla to resolve conflict

US president calls on PA and Israel to continue talks.

Obama311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to use the deadly Gaza flotilla incident to redouble efforts to resolve their conflict, as the US sought to keep the crisis from setting back nascent talks between the two sides.
“I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity,” Obama told CNN’s Larry King late Thursday.
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He said in addition to finding ways to protect Israel’s security and provide greater possibilities for Palestinians in Gaza, it was critical to “bring everybody together to figure out how can we get a two-state solution, where the Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security.” In his interview with King, he also backed Israel’s need to defend itself.
“Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missilesraining down on cities along the Israel-Gaza border,” he said. “I’vebeen to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missilescoming through people’s bedrooms.” He described the blockade as“preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunitiesand being able to create businesses and engage in trade and haveopportunity for the future.” Obama said it was important to “startopening up opportunity for Palestinians,” which follows administrationcalls earlier in the week for improvement in the conditions of Gazansand access to humanitarian goods.
He said that the US “condemned all the acts that led up to thisviolence,” which he referred to as “a tragic situation,” and repeatedUS calls for an “effective investigation” of the incident.
“I think the Israelis are going to agree to that – an investigation ofinternational standards – because they recognize that this can’t begood for Israel’s long-term security,” he added.
Obama calls for full accounting of raid facts
Asked whether it was premature to condemn Israel, as many in theinternational community have, Obama reiterated administration calls fora full accounting of the facts in the encounter, in which an Israeliraid on a Turkish-flagged aid vessel attempting to break the Gazablockade left nine dead.
“But it’s not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to thePalestinians, and to say to all the parties in the region that thestatus quo is unsustainable,” he said. “We have been trying to do thispiecemeal for decades now, and it just doesn’t work.”
Despite the international furor over the incident, US Middle East envoyGeorge Mitchell held previously scheduled meetings with Palestiniansduring his trip last week to participate in the Palestine InvestmentConference in Bethlehem. He has spoken to the parties in two previousrounds of indirect talks in recent weeks.
“The talks were constructive and substantive, and both partiesreiterated their commitment to reaching our common goal ofcomprehensive peace,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley saidFriday after Mitchell had left the region.
He added, “Despite the recent Gaza flotilla incident, the PalestinianInvestment Conference continued as scheduled and generated positivemomentum for future Palestinian economic development.” Additionally,Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was still on schedule tovisit the White House on Wednesday, where the peace negotiations willbe the top item on the agenda.
US urges Palestinians to move to direct talks
The US has been urging the Palestinians to move to direct talks withIsrael, a position Jerusalem supports. But the sensitivities concerningthe recent deaths are likely to slow the process and make Palestinianmoves toward Israel more difficult, and the incident – as well as Gazapolicy more generally – is now expected to take a prominent place onthe agenda.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is also due to visit Washington,possibly as next week, to hold a meeting scheduled for last Tuesday inthe Oval Office that he canceled in the wake of the flotillaconfrontation.
Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren praised the Obama administration Friday for being sympathetic to Israel’s situation.
“The Obama administration was very understanding during the entireweek, and I say this without reservation,” said Oren, who was speakingon a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “I did not hear aword of rancor from anybody in the administration. They understood ourpredicament.”
Earlier on the same call, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) noted the USefforts to keep a UN Security Council resolution passed last week fromcondemning Israel for the incident in pointing to strong Americansupport for Israel.
He also said that he would press US Attorney-General Eric Holder tofile criminal charges against the Americans on the protest ships, whichhe accused of helping Hamas. The US has listed Hamas as a terroristorganization. He said he would also urge that the foreigners on theboats be barred from the United States.