U.S. President Barack Obama has assured an audience of young Israelis that they are "not alone" in facing threats to Israel's security, while urging them to pursue peace with the Palestinians as the "only path to true security."
In a speech to university students in Jerusalem on Thursday, Mr. Obama spoke at length about the Jewish people's historic yearnings for freedom in their own land and the values shared by Americans and Israelis.
Mr. Obama also said that as a friend who is "deeply committed" to Israel's future, he believes Israelis can only keep their nation Jewish and democratic if they agree to an "independent and viable" state of Palestine.
Mr. Obama said Israeli leaders must recognize that "continued settlement activity" on land the Palestinians claim for a state is "counterproductive." Mr. Obama also said he believes Israel has a genuine peace partner in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Obama met Mr. Abbas in Ramallah earlier in the day and called on Israelis and Palestinians to begin peace talks on core issues of their conflict without waiting for those disputes to be resolved in advance.
Mr. Obama said "there is no point of negotiations" if either of the parties expect that direct talks can be held only when "everything is settled ahead of time."
Mr. Abbas has repeatedly insisted that he will not enter negotiations until Israel stops settlement activity in the West Bank and building homes in East Jerusalem, two areas he claims for a Palestinian state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long called for Mr. Abbas to resume direct talks without preconditions.
In a joint news conference, Mr. Abbas repeated his view that Israeli settlement activity is illegal. He said his government is ready to implement all of its international commitments to resolve the conflict with a two-state solution comprising "Palestine and Israel."
Mr. Abbas also said he is serious about achieving Palestinian reconciliation - a reference to his long running efforts to end a rift with Islamist militant group Hamas which ousted his forces from the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Earlier Thursday, Israeli police said militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza fired two rockets into southern Israel, damaging the yard of a house but causing no injuries.