President Barack Obama said on Friday there might be a need for a “pause” in U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, suggesting the faltering Middle East peace effort may be going nowhere.
Israel on Thursday suspended participation in peace talks with the Palestinians in response to President Mahmoud Abbas’s unexpected unity pact with the rival Islamist Hamas group, which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.
Speaking at a news conference in Seoul, Obama called the Palestinian move “unhelpful” and said it was one of a series of choices both sides had made that hurt the chances of reaching a peace deal.
“There may come a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives,” Obama told reporters.
While Obama insisted he was not ready to abandon his quest for Middle East peace, he said: “What we haven’t seen is frankly the political will to make tough decisions, frankly, and that’s been true on both sides.”
The negotiations had already been stalemated even before Wednesday’s reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian groups plunged the process deeper into crisis.
The United States had been struggling to extend the talks beyond an original April 29 deadline in the negotiations, which began nearly nine months ago under the auspices of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Talks stalled after Israel declined to go ahead with a promised release of Palestinian prisoners at the end of last month. The Palestinians then, in defiance of the United States and Israel, signed a series of international treaties and conventions.
New Israeli settlement construction plans further exacerbated tension.
Obama acknowledged on Friday that achieving an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal had always been a “long shot” for his administration, which failed in a first-term peace initiative.
But he insisted, “I make no apologies.”