Obama to Rivlin: Israeli-Palestinian peace elusive, but we must still try

While the prospects of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians appear dim in the foreseeable future, both leaders agreed it should still be pursued.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff
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President Reuven Rivlin with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

President Barack Obama hosted Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday and said the United States will keep working toward Mideast peace despite slim chances for success.

Sitting down with Rivlin, Obama said the US wants to be helpful in reducing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, which have recently boiled over into a spate of Palestinian terror attacks and which have lasted several months so far. Obama said it was critical for Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas to “unequivocally condemn” the attacks, fight incitement and pursue dialogue with Israelis. However, this is not likely as Abbas himself is a primary source of incitement against Israel.

“Although obviously this is a time at which the prospects of serious peace may seem distant, it’s important that we continue to try,” Obama said in the Oval Office. “And I know that President Rivlin has made it one of his hallmarks to improve dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.”

On the agenda for the meeting, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, were discussions about renewing a 10-year security agreement that could lead to more US military assistance to Israel. Obama said he also planned to discuss terrorism with Rivlin, whose role in the Israeli government is largely ceremonial.

Obama has lowered expectations for what the US might be able to accomplish in the near term following unsuccessful attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace earlier in his presidency. Hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last month, Obama spoke only of getting “back on a path toward peace,” while Netanyahu said he hadn’t given up hope.

Obama had no comment to offer about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has said he plans to meet with Netanyahu this month amid an uproar over his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the US. Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Trump’s recent statements about Muslims, saying Israel “respects all religions” as he faced demands to cancel the visit, but also announced he was would meet with him.

‘We Have No War With Islam’

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President Reuven Rivlin lights the Chanukiah at the White House. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Rivlin, who has sought to promote co-existence between Israelis and Arabs, offered an implicit rebuke of the GOP front-runner.

“We have no war with Islam,” Rivlin said. “We have war against those who are using ideas in order to create extremism and threats toward the whole innocent people of the world.”

He presented his host with a replica of a gold coin dating back to the Byzantine period which was found just under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Later in the afternoon, Obama along with his wife, Michelle, hosted Rivlin and his wife Nechama for the White House’s annual Hanukkah celebration. The Israeli president lit a Chanukiah that was made in his homeland during the 1920s. “May we be inspired to create something beautiful and lasting in this world,” Obama said. “May the warmth of family and friends around the world bring comfort and bring us joy.”

Reception guests included lawmakers, Jewish leaders and Alan Gross, a Jewish-American released by Cuba in 2014 after five years in captivity.