President Barack Obama urged the global community to cast aside old prejudices and take the risks needed to help reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Two years after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas made a powerful plea to the UN General Assembly to grant his people statehood, Obama said the United States remained “determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran.”
“The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace,” Obama told this year’s UN summit in New York.
“Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks.”
The Middle East peace process was relaunched in July ending almost three years of stalemate, after US Secretary of State John Kerry spent months doggedly shuttling back and forth to coax the two sides back to the negotiating table.
With the guidance of newly appointed US special envoy Martin Indyk, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting in private to hammer out some of the thorniest issues standing in the way of a deal to create two states, living side-by-side.
In September 2011, Abbas handed over a formal request for statehood to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, and triggered wild applause as he addressed the General Assembly, vowing that the Palestinians were ready to return to peace talks if Israeli settlement activities cease.
But that move was immediately rejected by Israel and the United States.
Obama, who met with Abbas later Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN gathering, praised the Palestinian leader for having now put aside efforts “to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table.”
He also hailed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s release of Palestinian prisoners and said the “current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.”
“Now the rest of us must also be willing to take risks,” Obama insisted.
“All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future,” he said.
“So let us emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice, and support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.”
President Abbas said during his meeting with Obama that “we have no illusion that peace will be easy” but he stressed it was important not just for Palestinians but the region and the world.
The two men met mostly one-on-one and Obama “encouraged President Abbas, as he has Prime Minister Netanyahu, to move quickly in those discussions,” a White House official said.
“We have a window of opportunity here with direct negotiations, and the quicker that they get to the hard issues, the greater likelihood there is of success,” he added.
Kerry also met with Abbas late Tuesday after first holding separate talks behind closed doors with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.
The top US diplomat has insisted that the nitty-gritty of the negotiations should remain confidential to prevent leaks which could scupper the chances of reaching a deal with suspicion and distrust running high on both sides.
Abbas, who will address the UN on Thursday, also met Tuesday with UN chief Ban. They discussed “the role that the international community could play in support of the Middle East peace process,” Ban’s office said in a statement.
They also stressed “the vital need for the international community to unite to bolster the fiscal standing of the Palestinian Authority,” the statement added.
Kerry’s team, in conjunction with the Middle East Quartet, is working on an economic plan to attract $4 billion in private investment to help shore up the Palestinian economy by investing in technology, housing construction and tourism.