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US President Barack Obama is welcomed by Palestinian girls during his visit to Al Bera Youth Centre in the West Bank city of Ramallah, yesterday.
Jerusalem/Ramallah: US President Barack Obama yesterday urged Israelis to look at the world through Palestinian eyes in an effort to end the conflict.
Obama stressed support for Israel while voicing criticism of its policies in the West Bank. “Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land,” he declared. Obama’s address to 1,000 mostly young Israelis in the Jerusalem Convention Centre, which was televised live, had been billed as the key speech of the visit.
Obama affirmed US support for Israel and reiterated that Washington would do what it takes to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
He earlier also told Palestinians not to give up on peace, “no matter how hard it is”, saying that the only way forward was through direct talks. He also called on Arab states to normalise ties with Israel and said Palestinians must recognise the Jewish state. But he stressed that “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognised”.
“And put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes,” he asked his audience. “It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own, living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements, not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day,” he said. “It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank or displace Palestinian families from their homes. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.”
Obama appealed to Israelis to “think about what can be done to build trust between people”. Peace does not begin in the hands of leaders, he said, but “in the hearts of people ... that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land.”
He criticised Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying they were “counterproductive to the cause of peace”. The US president had made much the same point in his news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Obama had told a joint news conference with Abbas that “if we can only have direct negotiations where everything is settled ahead of time, then we can’t make progress”. He said once the core issues of the dispute - sovereignty for the Palestinians, security for the Israelis - were solved, then the settlement problem would be solved as well.
Abbas, who described his talks with Obama as “good and useful”, said Palestinians believed peace was possible. But he warned that it could not be achieved “through violence, occupation, walls, settlements, arrests, siege and denial of refugee rights”. Abbas said Palestinians were ready to implement all their obligations in order to advance the two-state solution.