Obama: No Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in my presidency
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'This is not something I was able to get done'

Obama: No Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in my presidency

In meeting with Argentine counterpart, US president dismisses idea of bi-national state, reiterates support for two-state solution

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Argentina's President Mauricio Macri at the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Obama is on a two day official visit to Argentina. (Martin Zabala/Pool Photo via AP)
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Argentina's President Mauricio Macri at the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Obama is on a two day official visit to Argentina. (Martin Zabala/Pool Photo via AP)

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday said an Israeli-Palestinian deal would not be reached during his remaining nine months in office.

“This is not something I was able to get done,” he said. “I am not that hopeful that it’s going to happen in the next nine months. It’s been 60 years; it’s not going to happen in the next nine months.”

He said he expected, however, to continue his efforts to achieve Middle East peace after leaving office in January, Reuters reported.

During a two-day, state visit to Argentina, Obama also said a “bi-national” state with joint Israeli and Palestinian leadership was highly unlikely in light of the deep distrust between the two peoples.

“There’s been talk about a one-state solution or sort of a divided government. It’s hard for me to envision that being stable, there’s such deep distrust between the two peoples right now,” Reuters quoted the president telling students and teachers at a town hall meeting in Buenos Aires.

“And the neighborhood is in such a mess that I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way. Now, over time that could evolve.”

Israelis and Palestinians both have legitimate fears, but when it comes to making peace, “we can’t do it for them,” Obama added.

Earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House was exploring the possibility of backing a UN resolution to lay the groundwork for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. But US officials quickly denied the claim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he was sure Obama, like all US presidents, would maintain the “traditional policies of US governments to oppose” unilateral efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Meanwhile, Obama held up Argentina on Wednesday as an emerging world leader worthy of US support, as he and President Mauricio Macri broke with years of recent tensions between their countries.

Obama’s state visit to Buenos Aires quickly turned into a love-fest between him and Macri, who in December replaced hot-blooded former president Cristina Fernandez, long a thorn in Obama’s side. Obama lavished praise on Macri and said his visit was “so personally important,” even riffing on his boyhood interest in Argentinian literature and culture.

“President Macri is a man in a hurry,” Obama said in Casa Rosada, the pink-hued presidential palace made famous in the US by the movie “Evita.” ”I’m impressed because he has moved rapidly on so many of the reforms that he promised.”

Macri, who has committed Argentina to a pro-business approach, was equally effusive about Obama, who leaves office in less than a year.

“You emerged proposing major changes and you showed they were possible — that by being bold and with conviction, you could challenge the status quo,” Macri said. He added, “That was also a path of inspiration for what our dear country is now going through.”

Obama has made no secret of his preference for Macri over the left-leaning Fernandez, whose meandering invectives against the U.S. were a source of frequent eye-rolling in the White House. Fernandez was close with Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s famously anti-American late president, and openly admired Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. She was quick to blame the US for Argentina’s problems and was accused of helping Iran hide its role in bombing a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, a claim she denied.

So Obama was all too glad to see Fernandez replaced by Macri, who has started pushing Argentina back toward the political center after years of flirting with the extreme left. To that end, Obama’s visit was a reward of sorts to keep that promising trajectory on track.

It’s a theme of Obama’s Latin America policy that was on vivid display a day earlier in Cuba, where Obama paid a history-making visit aimed at spurring further reforms in the communist country. Obama’s administration has also been heartened by the Venezuelan opposition’s recent success in legislative elections and Bolivian President Evo Morales’ defeat in a referendum on term limits.

Those developments have fueled optimism in Washington “that Latin America is moving toward more rational economic and political policies,” said Gabriel Salvia of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, an Argentina-based think tank.

Yet Obama conceded that America’s history backing repressive regimes in the region had clouded its ability to take the moral high-ground. His visit, the first for a U.S. president in nearly 20 years, coincides with the 40th anniversary this week of Argentina’s 1976 coup, stirring up lingering questions about America’s role supporting the military dictatorship that followed.

At Macri’s request, Obama has agreed to declassify U.S. intelligence and military records about the period known as the “Dirty War,” a gesture Macri said would help Argentinians “know what the truth is.” Before closing his visit on Thursday, Obama planned to pay homage to the dictatorship’s victims at Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires.

“I don’t want to go through the list of every activity of the United States in Latin America,” Obama said. But he said one of the “great things about America” is that “we engage in a lot of self-criticism.”

Still, there were detractors. Some prominent rights groups threatened to boycott Obama’s visit to Remembrance Park. And a few hundred people gathered at a McDonald’s in protest.

“We reject Obama’s presence because the United States is most responsible for the dictatorship,” said Victoria Remesa, a 25-year-old teacher-in-training.

It was the opposite sentiment at a factory-turned-concert hall where Obama fielded questions from young Argentinians at a town hall meeting. He called on one fawning woman who said she was “going to have a heart attack,” adding that “you are my hero.” It turned out she didn’t actually have a question.

Macri was to honor Obama and his wife Wednesday evening at a state dinner at a cultural center named for the late Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’s husband and himself a former president. Before returning to Washington, Obama and his family planned for a leisurely daytrip to Bariloche, a picturesque city in southern Argentina.

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