By not insisting on a freeze in settlement activity, he softens a
stance he adopted toward Israel early in his first term.
President Barack Obama, speaking on Thursday first to
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and then to young Israelis in
Jerusalem, called on both sides for fresh thinking, greater
understanding of the others' fears and concerns, and a new
willingness to reach across the bitter divide separating them.
"If we're going to be successful, part of what we're going to
have to do is get out of the formulas and habits that have blocked
progress," Mr. Obama said in a news conference in the West Bank city
of Ramallah. "Both sides are going to have to think anew."
Speaking on the second day of a four-day visit to the region, Mr.
Obama appeared to move closer to the Israeli position on resuming
long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, stopping short of
repeating his insistence from early in his first term on a halt to
Israel's settlement expansion.
Hours after rockets from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza hit
southern Israel, Mr. Obama met with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of
the Palestinian Authority, and challenged both sides to resume face-
to-face talks, pledging that the United States "would do our part."
The president condemned the rocket attacks, which broke a three-
month cease-fire, but he insisted that the Israelis should not use
violence as an excuse to avoid negotiations, no more than the
Palestinians should insist that Israel halt construction of Jewish
settlements in the West Bank as a condition.
Mr. Abbas reiterated his demand that Israel halt settlement
construction, but he did not explicitly cite that as a condition for
entering into direct talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"It is the duty of the Israeli government to at least halt the
activity, so we can speak of the issues," Mr. Abbas said in Arabic,
speaking through an interpreter. "The issue of settlements is
There were signs of a chillier welcome for Mr. Obama in the West
Bank than he received a day earlier from the Netanyahu government in
Still, his meeting with the Palestinian leader came amid new
signs that Mr. Abbas is eager to return to negotiations with the
Israelis. A draft copy of his talking points for the session with
Mr. Obama, obtained by The New York Times, suggested that Mr. Abbas
was ready to soften his long-held demand that Mr. Netanyahu halt all
building of Jewish settlements as a precondition for the
Palestinians returning to talks with the Israelis.
The peace process has basically been stalled since 2010. In that
context, Mr. Obama seemed intent, in the major speech of his Israeli
visit, on urging members of a younger generation to take a gamble on
In a carefully crafted speech seen as the centerpiece of his
first trip to Israel as president, Mr. Obama asked an audience of
youthful Israelis in Jerusalem -- a generation who do not
necessarily share the hardened views of their elders -- to empathize
with their Israeli-occupied neighbors and "look at the world through
their eyes." His reception was often enthusiastic; his address was
often interrupted by applause.
Mr. Obama spoke of Israel's history and ideals and said he
remained unquestionably committed to the country's security. But he
also urged both sides to find ways to work together.
"I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical
about peace, but question its underlying premise, and that's a part
of democracy and the discourse between our two countries," Mr. Obama
said in the speech at the Jerusalem Convention Center. …