U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday that he was encouraging peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians because the alternative is a status quo that puts both parties - and the United States - at risk.
When asked by Haaretz what would happen if the direct peace talks, officially launched in Washington on Sept. 2, were to break down at an early stage, Obama said that "we are going to keep on trying."
"Over the long term, it [peace] has the opportunity to change the strategic landscape in the Middle East in a way that would be very helpful. It would help us deal with an Iran that has not been willing to give up its nuclear program. It would help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region," Obama explained.
"[Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu were here last week, and they came with a sense of purpose and seriousness and cordiality that, frankly, exceeded a lot of people's expectations. What they said was that they were serious about negotiations. They affirmed the goal of creating two states living side by side in peace and security," the U.S. president said.
Obama said the United States will stay engaged in the negotiations, including a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next week.
Referring to a temporary Israeli moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements, set to expire at the end of the month, Obama said that "I told Netanyahu – given that the talks are moving in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend the moratorium."
Abbas and other key Palestinian officials have declared that they would walk away from peace talks if the construction freeze is not extended beyond the September 26 deadline. Netanyahu has made no indication whether he intends to extend the freeze.
Obama went on to say that "I think the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu is very difficult. I told Netanyahu that 'you've got to show president Abbas that you're serious.' One of the goals I set for myself and my team is that Netanyahu and Abbas have to think how they can make the other side succeed. The only way to succeed is to see the world through the other person's eyes, and that requires personal relations and trust."
The U.S.-backed talks have set a goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state within one year.