Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama on Netanyahu's speech

The White House - Press Office - Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Berlusconi in press availability, 6-15-09
.....Steve Collinson.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Of the conditions that Prime Minister Netanyahu laid out yesterday for a Palestinian state, the basis for negotiation, do you think they will likely prove a stumbling block, given the broadly negative reaction from the Arab states and the Palestinians?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important not to immediately assess the situation based on commentary the day after a speech. I think any time an Israeli Prime Minister makes a statement, the immediate reaction tends to be negative on one side. If the other side is making a statement, oftentimes the reaction is negative in Israel.

Overall, I thought that there was positive movement in the Prime Minister's speech. He acknowledged the need for two states. There were a lot of conditions, and obviously working through the conditions on Israel's side for security, as well as the Palestinian side for sovereignty and territorial integrity and the capacity to have a functioning, prosperous state, that's exactly what negotiations are supposed to be about. But what we're seeing is at least the possibility that we can restart serious talks.

Now, I've been very clear that, from the United States' perspective, Israel's security is non-negotiable. We will stand behind their defense. I've also made very clear that both sides are going to have to move in some politically difficult ways in order to achieve what is going to be in the long-term interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians and the international community.

On the Israeli side, that means a cessation of settlements. And there is a tendency to try to parse exactly what this means, but I think the parties on the ground understand that if you have a continuation of settlements that, in past agreements, have been categorized as illegal, that's going to be an impediment to progress. On the Palestinian side, whether it's the Palestinian Authority or other groups like Hamas that claim to speak for the Palestinians, a recognition of the Quartet principles, ensuring that there's a recognition of Israel's right to exist, making sure that past agreements are abided to, that there's an end to incitement against Israel and an end to violence against Israel. Those are necessary pillars of any serious agreement that's to be reached.

And those pillars have to be supported by the Arab states, because Israel's security concerns extend beyond simply the Palestinian Territories; they extend to concerns that they have in a whole host of neighbors where there's perceived and often real hostility towards Israel's security. So I'm glad that Prime Minister Netanyahu made the speech. The United States will continue to try to be as honest as possible to all sides in this dispute to indicate the degree to which it's in everybody's interests to move in a new direction. And I think it can be accomplished, but it's going to require a lot of work and a partnership with key countries like Italy in order to help the parties come together and recognize their own interests.

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