News Column

Obama Going to Israel, Palestinian Areas 'to Listen'

March 14, 2013

President Barack Obama confirmed in remarks aired Thursday that he will not present a peace plan when he visits Israel and the Palestinian territories next week but instead is coming to listen to the sides' strategy.

The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was for "each side to recognize the other's legitimacy," he said in an interview broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 television.

Palestinians, he said, needed to feel they had a land of their own, while Israelis needed to know this did not come at the expense of their security.

He ruled out demanding a freeze on construction in Israeli settlements, as demanded by Palestinians as a prerequisite for restarting talks, but Obama did offer muted criticism of Israeli policy in the West Bank.

Asked about a settlement freeze, he said "we're past the point of preconditions," but noted that Israel needed to ask whether its West Bank settlements made it "harder or easier for Palestinian moderates" to come to the negotiating table.

Obama called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work to strengthen Palestinian moderates such as President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Obama's planned March 20 arrival at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, marks his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories in more than four years as US president.

He described his oft-commented on relations with Netanyahu as "a terrific, business-like working relationship."

He admitted it was sometimes "blunt," but pointed out that "we get stuff done" and differences between the Israeli and US leaderships "end up being bridged and resolved."

Asked if there was anything he would like to do in Israel, but could not because he was president, Obama said that "it would be great to roam Tel Aviv in disguise and go to a university and have some conversations with students in informal settings."

Unfortunately, he noted, as president, "you can't just slip out and interact with people without having a bunch of guys with machine-guns hanging out with you."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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