President Barack Obama called for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians in order to ensure lasting security and the long-term survival of the Jewish state.
Speaking to university students in Jerusalem, Obama said the U.S. remains Israel’s “greatest friend” but urged them to imagine themselves in the Palestinians’ shoes.
“There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror…but the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama said that prior to his speech, he met with a group of young Palestinians in their late teens and early 20s not very different from his own children.
“Talking to them, they weren’t that different from my daughters,” Obama said. “They weren’t that different from your daughters or sons. I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they’d say ‘I want those kids to succeed, I want them to prosper, I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do.’ I believe that’s what Israeli parents would want for these kids if they had a chance to listen to them and talk to them. I believe that.”
Still, he emphasized that the only way to peace is through two-sided negotiations, and vowed the U.S. would continue to oppose Palestinian efforts to bypass talks and take their case directly to the United Nations.
Obama’s remarks on behalf of the Palestinian people stood in stark contrast to his public comments the day before, when he appeared with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and instead repeatedly emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself.
Obama was interrupted one time by a heckler who apparently shouted about Jonathan Pollard, the spy imprisoned in the U.S. for passing documents to Israel. Audience members booed the protester and gave Obama a standing ovation when he said it was part of a “lively debate.”