27 janvier 2009,
THE PRESIDENT : Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.
And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the
United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues –and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.
Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.
And it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to take time. I don’t want to prejudge many of these issues, and I want to make sure that expectations are not raised so that we think that this is going to be resolved in a few months. But if we start the steady progress on these issues, I’m absolutely confident that the United States — working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region — I’m absolutely certain that we can make significant progress.
Q : You’ve been saying essentially that we should not look at these issues — like the Palestinian-Israeli track and separation from the border region — you’ve been talking about a kind of holistic approach to the region. Are we expecting a different paradigm in the sense that in the past one of the critiques — at least from the Arab side, the Muslim side — is that everything the Americans always tested with the Israelis, if it works. Now there is an Arab peace plan, there is a regional aspect to it. And you’ve indicated that. Would there be any shift, a paradigm shift ?
THE PRESIDENT : Well, here’s what I think is important. Look at the proposal that was put forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia –
Q : Right.
THE PRESIDENT : I might not agree with every aspect of the proposal, but it took great courage –
Q : Absolutely.
THE PRESIDENT : — to put forward something that is as significant as that.
I think that there are ideas across the region of how we might pursue peace.
I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan.
These things are interrelated. And what I’ve said, and I think Hillary Clinton has expressed this in her confirmation, is that if we are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.
Now, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.
And so what we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there’s a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.
Q : I want to ask you about the broader Muslim world, but let me – one final thing about the Palestinian-Israeli theater. There are many Palestinians and Israelis who are very frustrated now with the current conditions and they are losing hope, they are disillusioned, and they believe that time is running out on the two-state solution because – mainly because of the settlement activities in Palestinian-occupied territories.
Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state — and you know the contours of it — within the first Obama administration ?
THE PRESIDENT : I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state — I’m not going to put a time frame on it — that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.
And, look, I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off ? Do they have a future for themselves ? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security ? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.