American President Barack Obama on Monday voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made no mention to a Palestinian state.
President Obama said it was in the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians "to achieve a two-state solution" while Netanyahu, in his remarks after the meeting, made no mention of a “state."
Though the Israeli PM reiterated his support of Palestinian self-government, his ambiguous position on statehood underscored a rare rift in U.S.-Israeli relations.
Netanyahu said the two sides should not get hung up on "terminology" warning of dire consequences if the West Bank fell, like Gaza, under control of the Hamas Islamic organization.
But Obama pressed Netanyahu on his vow to work towards a Palestinian state.
"I believe it is in the interest not only of the Palestinians but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution," Obama said.
Netanyahu hailed Obama as a "great leader" and pledged he was ready to open talks with the Palestinians "immediately."
"I want to make it clear that we don't want to govern the Palestinians -- we want to live in peace with them," Netanyahu said. "We want them to govern themselves absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel."
He said the goal must be to end conflict, adding that both Israelis and Palestinians would have to compromise. "We're ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share as well," Netanyahu proclaimed.
Meanwhile, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Obama's commitment to a two-state solution was encouraging.
"The statements by Mr. Obama are encouraging while those by Prime Minister Netanyahu are disappointing," Senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
Regarding Iran, Obama said that Islamic Republic must show it is committed to progress in nuclear talks by the end of the year, while Netanyahu graphically described his fears that a nuclear-armed Iran could pose an existential threat to his nation.
"Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran," said Obama.
He predicted that U.S. diplomacy with Iran would likely not get far until after the Iranian elections in June.
But he added: "We are not going to have talks forever," addressing Israel's fear that Iran will prolong diplomacy for months just to give it more time to build nuclear weapons.
"My expectation would be that if we begin discussions soon, shortly after the Iranian elections, we should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction," Obama said.
Netanyahu warned that the "worst danger" Israel faces was Iran with nuclear weapons. "Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable," he said.
The White House meeting marked Obama's most testing diplomatic challenge yet after he made clear that he would push for a peace deal based on a Palestinian state and seek to defuse Iran's nuclear drive with diplomacy.