President Barack Obama asserted Saturday that it was unlikely Israel and the Palestinians would reach a peace agreement throughout the coming year, due to the various political challenges facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Speaking with the Al Arabiya news network, Obama noted that while the US government was committed to relaunching negotiations, the internal state of affairs within both Israel and the Palestinian Authority meant striking a deal would be “nearly impossible.”
At the first meeting of Israel’s 34th government on Friday morning, Netanyahu said that Israel would pursue a diplomatic settlement with the Palestinians while working with regional states to attain that goal.
Like the coalition agreement published this week, Netanyahu’s statement made no mention of a two-state solution — the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel which is favored by the US, EU, United Nations and Arab League and which Netanyahu has sometimes said he endorses in principle.
Soon after its narrow approval by parliament late Thursday, the new Orthodox and right-wing government was warned by Washington that it must forge a deal with the Palestinians for its own good.
Obama pointedly mentioned this imperative in remarks shortly after the Knesset ratified Netanyahu’s government by 61 votes to 59.
“I continue to believe a two-state solution is absolutely vital for not only peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but for the long-term security of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,” said Obama. “I know that a government has been formed that contains some folks who don’t necessarily believe in that premise, but that continues to be my premise.”
Netanyahu raised the ire of the Obama administration two months ago during the election campaign when he indicated that a Palestinian state would not be created while he was prime minister.
Israel insists the only path to a solution is through direct, bilateral talks with the Palestinians, and has bristled at UN involvement to set a timeframe for a deal. The US has hitherto supported the Israeli position, but the Obama administration now says it is re-evaluating its approach.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored plans to build at Jewish settlements in the West Bank and urged the new Israeli government to scrap the construction projects. Ban made the appeal after the Israeli parliament late Thursday approved Netanyahu’s new right-wing government.
The United Nations has repeatedly called on Israel to halt the construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, which it has branded as illegal and a move to erase the prospect of a Palestinian state.
AFP contributed to this report.