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Israel Has Lost Credibility in Peace Process, Obama Says

President Barack Obama pauses during remarks on Jewish American History Month at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington, May 22, 2015.
President Barack Obama pauses during remarks on Jewish American History Month at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington, May 22, 2015.

President Barack Obama says Israel is losing international credibility over whether it is serious about a peace settlement that includes a Palestinian state.

Obama made his comments in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 television, broadcast Tuesday.

The president was asked about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-election statement this year that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. Netanyahu has since sought to walk back from those remarks, but his peace overtures have met with skepticism from the Palestinians as well as Western diplomats.

Obama said Netanyahu's position "has so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met at any time in the near future. So the danger is that Israel as a whole loses credibility. Already, the international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution."

Long break in talks

The last round of U.S.-sponsored talks stalled more than a year ago, with Palestinians blaming Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, among the territories where they seek an independent state.

Obama said now was the time for a re-evaluation of "how we approach defending Israel on the international stage around the Palestinian issue."

He cited pro-Palestinian resolutions at the United Nations that Washington has long blocked in the name of encouraging direct diplomacy between the sides. Asked whether such U.S. vetoes would continue, Obama sounded circumspect.

"Well, here's the challenge. If in fact there is no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there is a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation," he said. "It is more difficult for me to say to them, 'Be patient, wait, because we have a process here.' "

Obama said in the interview that Israeli politics are "motivated only by fear."

"I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is somebody who's predisposed to think of security first, to think perhaps that peace is naive, to see the worst possibilities as opposed to the best possibilities in Arab partners or Palestinian partners," the president said.

Friction with White House

Netanyahu's comments about the Palestinians and his nonstop denouncement of the nuclear talks with Iran — especially his appearance before the U.S. Congress in March — have angered the Obama administration.

The prime minister has repeatedly warned that any nuclear deal with Iran would be a bad deal and still leave it with the ability to build a bomb, putting Israel in grave danger.

But Obama said diplomacy, not military action, is the only way to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb. He said he understood Israel's concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran, but he has said many times that Israeli security is a top U.S. priority.

Netanyahu's office did not immediately comment on the Obama interview. Speaking at an Israeli missile defense drill earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu stressed the need for self-sufficiency:

"When it comes to Israel's security, I rely, first of all, on ourselves."

Some information for this report came from Reuters.