President Barack Obama Says Jewish Settlements Issue Must Not Block Peace

Tells Palestinians Stalled Peace Process Is Main Issue

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By Reuters

Published March 21, 2013.
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Obama held talks with Netanyahu on Wednesday and toured the Israel Museum in Jerusalem with him on Thursday, viewing the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls - artefacts that underscore the Jewish link to the Holy Land - and a high-tech exhibit.

The main focus of his initial discussions with Netanyahu appeared to be pressing regional concerns, primarily Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the civil war in neighbouring Syria, and winning the hearts of a sceptical Israeli public.

After repeated run-ins with Netanyahu during Obama’s first term in office, the mood between the two men appeared to be much warmer, angering Palestinians, who blame the 2010 collapse of U.S.-backed peace negotiations on the Israeli leader’s expansion of settlements on land where they want their state.

Obama is also to address the decades-old conflict later on Thursday in a keynote speech to students in Jerusalem.

After the lofty ambitions of Obama’s first term, when he appointed a special envoy to the Middle East on his very first day in charge and said peacemaking was a priority, it was clear that the president has now set the bar significantly lower.

“I will consider this a success if, when I go back on Friday, I am able to say to myself I have a better understanding of what the constraints are,” he told a joint news conference on Wednesday, standing alongside Netanyahu.

The three-day visit is Obama’s first to Israel and the West Bank since entering the White House in 2009, and the inaugural foreign trip of a final four-year term that began in January.

Sporadic protests had flared in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this week, with Palestinians accusing Obama of not doing enough to halt Israeli settlement-building on land seized in 1967.

Posters depicting the U.S. president were defaced in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem earlier this week and anti-U.S. sentiment bubbled up on social media.


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