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Obama Calls On Israeli Students To Push For Renewed Peace Talks With Palestinians


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Today in Jerusalem, President Obama addressed an appreciative audience of Israeli college students. He told them that their generation has a chance to secure Israel's future by achieving peace with the Palestinians. He also urged them to push their politicians to take chances in the interests of peace. The president also met with Palestinians in the West Bank. NPR's Larry Abramson sent this story about day two of Obama's trip.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: This morning, President Obama viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls, which many Israelis see as proof of their deep historical ties to the land. In his afternoon speech to about 2,000 students, Obama saluted Israelis for regaining what they consider to be their homeland. And he said that Israel's neighbors should get used to its existence.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel's right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above because Israel is not going anywhere.


ABRAMSON: You are not alone, he told the students, because he said the United States remains Israel's strongest ally committed to its security. But he said that's not enough to protect Israel.

OBAMA: The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.


OBAMA: That is true.

ABRAMSON: He told the students that they must demand that their politicians take risks for peace. That sounds like a challenge to the new government, sworn in days ago, which officially supports a two-state solution. But that official position, held for years by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among others, has not led very far. Obama said Israel must address what the U.S. considers a major obstacle: continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

OBAMA: Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace...


OBAMA: ...and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that has to be drawn.

ABRAMSON: In fact, that statement pretty much sums up the U.S. position for many years on this issue, but settlement planning and construction continue. And while the new Israeli government includes strong advocates for peace talks, it also contains a strong cohort of settlement supporters. The president got a different reception when he visited the occupied West Bank earlier in the day.


ABRAMSON: In Ramallah, protesters marched in the street while Obama met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Demonstrators decried the very thing Obama was trumpeting in Jerusalem: unwavering U.S. support for Israel. And for many Palestinians, settlements must be dealt with before peace talks can progress. Mustafa Barghouti is in the Palestinian legislature.

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Stopping the settlements is the only way you can get to fruitful negotiations. Without doing that, negotiations will be nothing but a cover to a process of consolidation of a system of segregation and apartheid.

ABRAMSON: And President Mahmoud Abbas had much the same thing to say during a news conference after his meeting with President Obama. Nevertheless, Obama said that Israel does have a partner in the Palestinian Authority. Israel was reminded of the possible alternative to Abbas. Two rockets fired from Gaza landed in Israel this morning causing minor property damage. On Wednesday, Obama viewed an Iron Dome battery, the U.S.-funded missile defense system that has stopped many Gaza rockets. But in his Jerusalem speech, the president warned students that only the absence of war can truly protect Israelis over the long term.

OBAMA: Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy...


OBAMA: ...that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm.

ABRAMSON: The president wraps up his tour of Israel on the West Bank on Friday, then he's off to Jordan. Secretary of State John Kerry will be back on Saturday to see about moving the peace process forward. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.