Ahead of talks between the US leader and Israeli PM Netanyahu in Washington on Monday, Obama warned that the United States may not be able to protect Israel if a two-state solution with the Palestinians fails.
Following nine months of failed efforts to reach a peace
agreement with the Palestinians, Obama warned in an interview
with Bloomberg that Israel risked international sanctions.
Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices.”
On his part, however, Netanyahu has vowed to hold steady in the face of heavy international pressure for a settlement with the Palestinians, who won de facto recognition in the 193-nation UN General Assembly in November 2012.
"In recent years, the state of Israel has been under various pressures," Netanyahu said, AP reported. "We have rejected them in the face of the unprecedented storm and unrest in the region and are maintaining stability and security. This is what has been and what will be."
There are an estimated 4.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with aspirations to achieve a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital – just one of many sticking points in the process.
Obama, however, is of the opinion that Netanyahu could guide the Israeli state toward peace if he chose to do so.
“If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” Obama asked.
The president went on to condemn Israel’s “aggressive
settlement construction,” which he warned would have
dangerous consequences if it continued.
“If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” Obama said.
“Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?” he asked.
Obama then defended the character of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who he said “has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve” the standoff.
“We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like,” Obama said.
”For us not to seize that opportunity would be a mistake.”
Netanyahu left for Washington on Sunday for talks about the US-led peace process and nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran.
“Obama will press him to agree to a framework for a conclusive round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that is being drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry,” The New York Times quoted senior US officials as saying last week.
Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which began last July in the hope of reaching a deal within nine months, have failed to make a breakthrough.
A draft peace proposal is likely to be presented to Netanyahu this week and to Abbas on March 17 when he, in turn, meets Obama in Washington.