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March 21, 2013

Obama says he's not giving up on Mideast peace

(Continued)

RAMALLAH, West Bank —

"We require the Israeli government to stop settlements in order to discuss all our issues and their concerns," Abbas said in the appearance, which was an integral part of Obama's brief visit to the West Bank on the second day of his Mideast visit.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 war — but are ready for minor adjustments to accommodate some settlements closest to Israel. Since 1967, Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that are now home to 560,000 Israelis — an increase of 60,000 since Obama became president four years ago.

Obama said he told Netanyahu "we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace." But, he added, "the politics there are complex and I recognize that is not an issue that's going to be solved immediately, it's not going to be solved overnight."

Obama suggested that Palestinians should not make halting the settlements a condition to resuming peace negotiations with Israel.

He did say that Palestinians deserve an independent and sovereign state and an end to occupation by Israel. He said the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state of Israel continues to exist if negotiations would restart.

"I absolutely believe that it is still possible, but I think it is very difficult," Obama said. He also said it would be helpful if rockets weren't still being launched into Israel.

In downtown Ramallah, several dozen people protested against what is perceived here as a strong U.S. bias in favor of Israel.

Obama "should take immediate action to stop settlement activity because the passivity of his position toward settlements is happening while the very last option of a two-state solution is being killed by Israeli settlements," said Mustafa Barghouti, a leading Palestinian activist.

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