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US insists on settlement freeze
Obama also reiterates commitment to two-state solution after Israel's rebuff.
Last Modified: 29 May 2009 20:02 GMT

The US has increased pressure on Israel over the
building of illegal settlements [EPA]

Barack Obama has repeated his call for Israel to stop settlement construction after holding talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Declaring that Washington was a "stalwart ally" of Israel, the US president nonetheless said that "stopping settlements" was part of Israel's responsibility under the 2003 "road map" peace plan.

He also reiterated his commitment to a Palestinian state, saying he was "a strong believer in a two-state solution" to the Middle East conflict.

Obama's comments, made alongside Abbas at the White House on Thursday, came as Israel appeared to rebuff Washington's demand, made a day earlier, that it stop all settlement expansion without exception.

Positive body language

Abbas, meeting Obama for the first time since the US president took office in January, said he had shared ideas with Obama based on the road map and the 2002 Saudi peace plan backed by the Arab League.

"Time is of the essence," Abbas said.

Thursday's meeting was the first between the two leaders since Obama took office [Reuters]
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said it was "shocking" to see a Palestinian leader at the White House in agreement with the US president on the key issues of a two-state solution and on settlements.

Assessing the body language and tone, Bishara said there appeared to be "agreement on both the momentum and the end game" between Obama and Abbas.

That contrasted with the body language and tone between Obama and Netanyahu when the two met the previous week, which "showed they were not in agreement to an extent that we haven't seen in recent memory", he added.

Obama said he expected the Palestinians to uphold their commitments too, including halting anti-Israel violence and what he called incitement.

In depth


Abbas's 'two-state plan'
 Hamas's exclusion from talks
 Obama, Abbas agree on two-state solution

Abbas replied that "we are fully committed to all of our obligations under the road map".

Abbas also held separate talks with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

The meeting came shortly after the US issued one of its strongest calls yet to Israel to halt the building of settlements on Palestinian land.

In remarks on Wednesday, Clinton said that Obama "was very clear" when Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, visited the White House last week that "he wants to see a stop to settlements. Not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions".

Israeli rebuff

But an Israeli government spokesman rejected Clinton's remarks on Thursday, saying settlement activity would continue as usual.

"Normal life" will be allowed in settlements in the occupied West Bank, Mark Regev said, in effect meaning construction would continue to accommodate population growth. 

Jacob Dayan, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles, told Al Jazeera that while there were "things that we differ with the American administration" on, he did not believe that there would be punitive action by the US against Israel.

"The United States is our strategic partner ... our closest partner in the world," he said.

Half a million Israeli setters live in more than 100 settlements on occupied land [Reuters]
And Obama stuck to a hopeful tone in his remarks to reporters, saying he had pressed Netanyahu on the matter only a week ago.

"I think it's important not to assume the worst, but to assume the best," he said, adding that Netanyahu needed time to work on the issue at home.

But he made clear that he would continue to push Netanyahu on the issue.

"We can't continue with the drift, with the increased fear and resentment on both sides, the sense of hopelessness around the situation that we've seen for many years now," he said.

"We need to get this thing back on track."

The Palestinians say settlements built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and deemed illegal internationally, could deny them a viable and contiguous state and that expansion activities undermine efforts to negotiate a peace agreement.

About 500,000 Israeli setters live in more than 100 settlements that Israel has built since its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory in which almost three million Palestinians live.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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