Obama Urges Israeli, Palestinian Sides to Do More

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama increased the pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday to work harder to make Mideast peace talks possible.

Obama addressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the start of a joint meeting between the leaders in New York, greeting both men with a handshake.

It was the first Israel-Palestinian meeting since Netanyahu became prime minister in March.

CBN News Senior Editor John Waage gave his analysis of the Mideast talks. Click play to watch the interview.

Until now, Mideast experts have been skeptical that anything fruitful will come of Tuesday's gathering. That's because of stalled peace talks that broke down over a major dispute on Jewish settlements.

About a half million people live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel believes in order to support them, they must be allowed to grow naturally.

But Obama, hoping to jumpstart Mideast peace negotiations, wants a settlement freeze to pursue an Israeli and Palestinian state living side by side -- an unpopular idea among settlers like Jay Bailey and his family.

"Even if we were to pick up and move out, whether all of a sudden they would say, Ok! We're happy to have you living side by side. Israel's right to exist in the first place, we can't get that sentence out of their mouths," Bailey said.

Netanyahu and his conservative government have offered to limit construction for a few months to about 3,000 housing units in the West Bank.

It's a sticking point for Abbas who has refused to resume talks unless Israel agrees to a freeze.

"Believe me, Arabs and Muslims are asking one question if President Obama cannot have Mr. Netanyahu stop settlement activities who will believe the President Obama can convince Netanyahu to pull back to 67 borders or to establish a Palestinian state?" Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

But Israel has its own outstanding conditions. During last May's White House meeting, Netanyahu called reiterated Israel's right to exist.

"The Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (They) will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself," Netanyahu said.

Another issue Obama will have to address -- Iran's growing threat to Israel. Just Tuesday, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned that his government will retaliate with full might against any attack. It's seen as a veiled warning to Israel, which calls Iran it's biggest threat.

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CBN News
John Jessup

John Jessup

CBN News Anchor

John Jessup serves as the main news anchor for CBN, a position he assumed after 10 years reporting for the network in Washington, D.C. His work in broadcast news has earned him several awards in reporting, producing, and coordinating elections coverage. Follow John on Twitter @JohnCBNNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/John.V.Jessup.