Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration pledged on Monday to work with the United States for Middle East peace shortly after U.S. President Barak Obama said he would push for Palestinian state.
“Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security and to the pursuit of peace,” said a brief statement released by Netanyahu’s office following Obama’s comments.
“The government of Israel is committed to both of these goals and will formulate its policies in the near future so as to work closely with the United States,” the statement said.
On Monday in Turkey, Obama said his administration would seek the creation of Palestinian state, underlining that Israel and the Palestinians agreed on that goal under the U.S.-backed road map peace plan and during a 2007 conference in Annapolis, Maryland, that were supposed to revive the plan.
“Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” said Obama.
“That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of good will around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis,” he added. “And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president.”
U.S. special envoy Mitchell is due to arrive in the region April 13 to advance the goal of the two-state solution and comprehensive peace. Mitchell is scheduled to meet with key officials in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Egypt, the Gulf, and North Africa.
Obama also urged Ankara to continue its active role in seeking a lasting peace settlement for Israel and the Palestinians.
“We must not give into pessimism and mistrust,” Obama told Turkish lawmakers. “We must pursue every opportunity for progress.”
He told the MPs that while all parties involved know that the path to peace will be difficult, both the United States and Turkey “can help the Palestinians and Israelis make this journey.”
Obama also praised Turkey for its friendship and partnership in “Israel’s quest for security” and for seeking “a future of opportunity and statehood for the Palestinians.”
“We must pursue every opportunity for progress, as you have done by supporting negotiations between Syria and Israel,” Obama said. “We must extend a hand to those Palestinians who are in need, while helping them strengthen institutions. And we must reject the use of terror, and recognize that Israel’s security concerns are legitimate.”
The U.S. president also sought to reassure the Turks over strained relations that have plagued the two countries since 2003, when Ankara opposed the invasion of Iraq and refused to let U.S. troops deploy on its territory.
Turkey has also criticized Washington for allowing Kurdish separatists to be based in northern Iraq from where they stage attacks into Turkish territory.
“I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced,” he said.
“Let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject,” said Obama. But he added: “I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to Al-Qaida.”
“Turkey’s greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide - it is where they come together. In the beauty of your culture; in the richness of your history; in the strength of your democracy [and] in your hopes for tomorrow,” the president said.
Obama arrived in Ankara on Sunday, with the aim of rebuilding ties with Turkey, a Muslim country with growing clout whose help Washington needs to solve confrontations from Iran to Afghanistan.
Trip signals Turkey’s regional reach, economic power
His two-day visit is a nod to Turkey’s regional reach, economic power, diplomatic contacts and status as a secular democracy seeking European Union membership that has accommodated political Islam.
It is the last leg of his eight-day debut trip on the world stage as president. It is also his first to a predominantly Muslim country as president, a visit closely watched in the Islamic world.
“I look forward to strengthening relations between the U.S. and Turkey and support Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a modern and prosperous democracy,” Obama wrote in the guestbook at the tomb of the revered founder of modern Turkey, where he visited earlier Monday.
Obama held talks with President Abdullah Gul after the tomb visit and later met Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
The White House said at the top of his agenda was to discuss regional challenges, like the threat from terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, relations with Iran, and a goal of lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.
Obama’s motorcade got plenty of friendly waves from small groups along a route from the international airport to the city center lined with security personnel when he arrived on Sunday. A few people waved tiny Turkish flags. Former President George W. Bush got a mostly indifferent response from the public in visits to the Muslim world.
Turkey will not be the venue for Obama’s promised major speech in a Muslim capital, but his April 5-7 trip will be a way to emphasize his message of reaching out to Muslims.
Later on in Istanbul, Obama will attend a reception of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, co-hosted by Turkey and Spain to bridge the gap between Western and Islamic countries.