WHITE HOUSE - White House officials are condemning Israel's plans to go ahead with construction in East Jerusalem, saying the move poisons the atmosphere for peace. The statements came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office Wednesday.
Despite their differences, the two leaders have reaffirmed their relationship and pledged work together for peace in what they said is a new situation in the Middle East.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went into their meeting at the Oval Office with differing agendas.
Netanyahu wanted to talk about the Iran nuclear threat.
Obama’s focus was on civilian casualties during Israel’s recent operations against militants in the Gaza Strip, when more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed.
“We have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, also so we don't have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well," said President Obama.
The U.S. leader reaffirmed what he said is the United States’ iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security, as evidenced by Washington’s provision of the "Iron Dome" missile interception system that has helped Israel shoot down a number of missiles fired by militants in Gaza at Israel.
Obama said the two would discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza and how they could find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
They also talked about the U.S.-led campaign to defeat militants with the Islamic State group.
Netanyahu said Israel fully supports the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State, but what is even more critical - he said - is the goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The Israeli leader urged Obama not to yield to Iran’s wishes in the ongoing P5+1 negotiations, which aim to roll back Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for reduced sanctions.
“Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that we worked so hard to put into place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power. And I fervently hope that under your leadership, that would not happen," said Netanyahu.
With Palestinian peace negotiations at a standstill and prospects for an Iran nuclear deal uncertain, U.S. and Israeli leaders hope Wednesday’s talks will result in more cooperation - something Netanyahu indicated is necessary as the security situation in the Middle East worsens.
Security analyst Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a constant stimulus to Islamic extremism across the Middle East and is hindering U.S. efforts to build partnerships with Arab states. He said there are growing reasons to try to resolve the conflict.
“There is the growing risk that you will see hope completely disappear for both sides, that the belief the peace process can really work is going to be replaced by open tension and if we add that dimension to the Islamic State or Iran, obviously, it makes it much worse," said Cordesman.
Peace talks broke down earlier this year, with both Israelis and Palestinians showing no signs of wanting to restart them.