Following a key meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, the White House said that it was unlikely that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be achieved, or that peace talks would even be renewed, in the last 14 months of Obama’s term.
Speaking at a press briefing, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said Washington was encouraged by Netanyahu’s claims that he was committed to the two-state solution, but would wait and see what action Israel would take.
Earnest said there was a “pretty stark divide” right now between Israelis and Palestinians that needs to be bridged, adding that Netanyahu’s comments on his hopes for peace were “encouraging, but what matters is the follow through.”
Earnest spoke as Obama and Netanyahu wrapped up a meeting in the White House, their first in over a year, against the backdrop of fraying ties between the leaders over the Iran nuclear deal and a lack of progress toward a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s aide’s described the meeting as “good.”
Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu told Obama he was committed to a two-state solution, though a report seemingly timed to coincide with the meeting revealed that Israeli officials had given preliminary approval to over 2,000 new settlement homes near Ramallah.
Earnest called Israel’s policy of settlement construction in the West Bank “counterproductive.”
He said Israel and the Palestinians must take a series of confidence-building measures, including a “reduction, if not an end” to the violence and the incitement and “a willingness on both sides to engage constructively.”
The White House said Obama believes Israeli security is best served by peace talks and the two-state solution, and stressed that Israeli and Palestinian leaders must make tough choices for peace.
The “long-simmering conflict has continued to create the kind of instability that allows violence to take root,” said Earnest.
Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have invested a lot in peace talks, but “ultimately what is clear is that political leaders on both sides need to make difficult choices” that will be “unpopular” among constituents, but will serve them in the long run, he said.
Earnest also dodged a question about whether the US would condition defense aid on settlement construction, and stressed that the US’s commitment to Israel’s security was “unshakable.”
Israel is “the strongest ally of the US in that region of the world,” he stated.