Jerusalem: Warning Israel that it was at a "crossroads", US President Barack Obama on Friday voiced his opposition to Tel Aviv's controversial settlement activities and said America was "deeply committed" to create an independent, sovereign state of Palestine.
In a speech in Jerusalem addressed to the Israeli people, Obama asked the Jewish state to recognise "the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice", saying peace is necessary as it is the "only path to true security".
"Put yourself in their shoes look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day," the US president said.
Earlier in the day, Obama made a historic trip to Israeli-occupied West Bank and met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hours after rockets from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israeli city of Sderot.
On the second day of his landmark trip to the region, Obama said Israeli settlement activities were "not constructive" for peace in the volatile region. He asked both Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume long-stalled peace talks, pledging the US "would do our part."
"Palestinians deserve a state of their own. The US is deeply committed to seeing...an independent, sovereign state," he said in Ramallah at a joint press conference with Abbas.
Obama urged Palestinians not to give up on peace, "no matter how hard it is," adding that the only way to achieve progress was through direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.
"I spoke to President Abbas. I heard him speak of the obstacles, including an ongoing settlement construction policy. I know that the Palestinians are frustrated," he said.
Asked on the possibility of resuming peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Obama criticised settlement construction saying, "I told (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu that it has been US policy not to consider settlement activity to be constructive, appropriate or advance the cause of peace."
"If the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there is no point for negotiations, so I think it is important to work through this process even if there are irritants on both sides," Obama said.
"My argument is that even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, maybe engaging in activities that the other side considers to be a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get to an agreement. We can keep pushing through some of these problems and make sure that we don't use them as an excuse not to do anything," Obama said on his maiden visit to the region.
However, the US President said he understands that Israeli politics is "complicated" and that this issue is "not going to be resolved overnight," hinting at the current Israeli coalition government makeup overwhelmingly comprising of hardliners and pro-settlement lawmakers who would block any efforts to put an end to settlement activities.
Acknowledging that settlements cannot advance the cause of peace, Obama urged the Palestinians must not use settlements as an excuse not to talk. Abbas demanded that Israel halt settlement construction, but he did not explicitly cite that as a condition for entering into direct talks that have been stalled since 2010.
Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since it took control of the area in 1967 and it is now home to 560,000 Israelis, an increase of 60,000 since Obama became the US President.
Obama also condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza, which broke a three-month cease-fire, but he insisted that the Israelis should not use violence as an excuse to avoid talks.
He also slammed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. "Assad must go so that Syria's future can begin."
Obama also said that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. "I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran," he said amid applause.
The Palestinian issue is being seen as a low priority on Obama's agenda during the visit which has mainly focused on the issue of preventing Iran from going nuclear and the strife in Syria that can potentially change the security situation in the region.
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