US President Barack Obama said today he is not giving up on stalled peace talks in the Mideast but that continued Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank is not helping the cause.
But Mr Obama suggested that Palestinians should not make it a condition to resuming peace negotiations with Israel.
He says there is no point to negotiations if the expectation is that everything must be worked out in advance.
“We do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace,” Mr Obama said.
But, he added, “the politics there are complex and I recognise that is not an issue that’s going to be solved immediately, it’s not going to be solved overnight.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, appearing alongside Mr Obama at a news conference in Ramallah, West Bank, said Israel must stop illegal settlement building to advance peace talks.
“We are not claiming anything that is illegitimate or illegal,” Mr Abbas said in Arabic. “Therefore, we require the Israeli government to stop settlements in order to discuss all our issues and their concerns.”
Mr Obama said Palestinians deserve an independent and sovereign state and an end to occupation by Israel.
He said the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state of Israel continues to exist if negotiations would restart.
“I absolutely believe that it is still possible, but I think it is very difficult,” Mr Obama said. He also said it would be helpful if rockets weren’t still being launched into Israel.
He spoke after Gaza militants fired two rockets at southern Israel.
Israeli spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says one rocket exploded in the courtyard of a house in the border town of Sderot, causing damage but no injuries. The other landed in an open field.
Mr Abbas said he told the American leader that peace with Israel should not be achieved through violence, occupation, settlements, arrests or denial of refugee rights.
Mr Obama was visiting the West Bank on his second day of a Mideast trip after spending a day in Jerusalem.
He said he spoke of the settlements during meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since 1967, Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that are now home to 560,000 Israelis – an increase of 60,000 since Obama became president.