President Obama urged Palestine Thursday to return to the negotiating table with Israel for peace talks, saying demands over settlement of the West Bank should not be an “excuse” to halt all progress.
Obama said the United States still views Israeli settlement in the West Bank as a hindrance to peace, but the president also softened his previous support of the Palestinian insistence to halt settlements before negotiations resume.
“If the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there is no point for negotiations, so I think it is important to work through this process even if there are irritants on both sides,” Obama told reporters at a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Such remarks are unlikely to play well with the Palestinian public, which already has soured on the president amid his inability to back up promises to move the peace talks forward.
And Abbas was not moved by Obama’s plea.
“We require the Israeli government to stop settlements in order to discuss all our issues and their concerns,” he told reporters. “It’s the duty of the Israeli government to stop the settlement activities to enable us to talk about the issues in the negotiations.”
Later Thursday, Obama will speak from a Jerusalem convention center, where he is expected to deliver his most extensive remarks on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.