Sunday, September 12, 2010

Obama: The US will keep on trying; Abbas knows the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing

U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday that he was encouraging peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians because the alternative is a status quo that puts both parties - and the United States - at risk.

When asked by Haaretz what would happen if the direct peace talks, officially launched in Washington on Sept. 2, were to break down at an early stage, Obama said that "we are going to keep on trying."


Natasha Mozgovaya of Haaretz. Is she here? Natasha -- there you are back there.

Q Mr. President, back in the region, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders, they sound a bit less ready for this historic compromise. President Abbas, for example, said the Palestinians won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The question is, if these talks fail at an early stage, will this administration disengage? Or maybe you’re ready to step up and deepen your personal involvement.

THE PRESIDENT: President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu were here last week, and they came with a sense of purpose and seriousness and cordiality that, frankly, exceeded a lot of people’s expectations. What they said was that they were serious about negotiating. They affirmed the goal of creating two states, living side by side in peace and security. They have set up a schedule where they’re going to meet every two weeks. We are actively participating in that process. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be flying to the Middle East for the first series of next meetings on September 14th and 15th.

And so what we’ve done is to bring the parties together to try to get them to recognize that the path for Israeli security and Palestinian sovereignty can only be met through negotiations. And these are going to be tough negotiations. There are enormous hurdles between now and our endpoint, and there are going to be a whole bunch of folks in the region who want to undermine these negotiations. We saw it when Hamas carried out these horrific attacks against civilians -- and explicitly said, we’re going to try to do this to undermine peace talks. There are going to be rejectionists who suggest that it can’t happen, and there are also going to be cynics who just believe that the mistrust between the sides is too deep.

We understood all that. We understood that it was a risk for us to promote these discussions. But it is a risk worth taking. Because I firmly believe that it is in America’s national security interests, as well as Israel’s national security interests, as well as in the interests of the Palestinian people, to arrive at a peace deal.

Part of the reason that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu was comfortable coming here was that he’s seen, during the course of 18 months, that my administration is unequivocal in our defense of Israel’s security. And we’ve engaged in some unprecedented cooperation with Israel to make sure that they can deal with any external threats. But I think he also came here understanding that to maintain Israel as a Jewish state that is also a democratic state, this issue has to be dealt with.

I think President Abbas came here, despite great misgivings and pressure from the other side, because he understood the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing. And there are a whole bunch of parties in the region who purport to be friends of the Palestinians and yet do everything they can to avoid the path that would actually lead to a Palestinian state, would actually lead to their goal.

And so the two parties need each other. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Ultimately it’s going to be up to them. We can facilitate; we can encourage; we can tell them that we will stand behind them in their efforts and are willing to contribute as part of the broader international community in making this work. But ultimately the parties have to make these decisions for themselves.

And I remain hopeful, but this is going to be tough. And I don’t want anybody out there thinking that it’s going to be easy. The main point I want to make is it’s a risk worth taking because the alternative is a status quo that is unsustainable.

And so if these talks break down, we’re going to keep on trying. Over the long term, it has the opportunity, by the way, also to change the strategic landscape in the Middle East in a way that would be very helpful. It would help us deal with an Iran that has not been willing to give up its nuclear program. It would help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region. So this is something in our interest. We’re not just doing this to feel good. We’re doing it because it will help secure America as well.