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Mideast peace not getting easier: Obama

WASHINGTON, Mar 25 – US President Barack Obama said that Middle East peace efforts were not getting any "easier" with Israel building a government under hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu, but said they were "just as necessary."

"It is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security," Obama declared at a prime-time press conference.

"The status quo is unsustainable," said the president.

Obama had been asked about prospects for peace under Netanyahu , who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, and likely foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, whom critics have dubbed a racist because of repeated diatribes against Israeli Arabs.

"It’s not easier than it was. But I think it’s just as necessary. We don’t yet know what the Israeli government is going to look like and we don’t yet know what the future shape of Palestinian leadership is going to be," said Obama.

The US president said his appointment of former senator George Mitchell as his special Middle East peace envoy had signaled "that we are going to be serious from day one in trying to move the parties" towards a two-state solution.

But where predecessor George W. Bush set a target deadline of late 2008 to achieve that vision, Obama was more cautious.

"How effective these negotiations may be, I think we are going to have to wait and see," said Obama, who drew on the example of Northern Ireland peace after decades of sectarian troubles as a beacon of hope for Israelis and Palestinians.

"We had what had been previously sworn enemies celebrating here in this very room" for St Patrick’s Day, he said. "Here they were, jointly appearing, and talking about their commitment, even in the face of violent provocation."

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"And what that tells me is that, if you stick to it, if you are persistent, then these problems can be dealt with," said Obama.

Under an agreement that brought Israel’s center-left Labour party into the fold of a Netanyahu government, the premier designate would commit "to reach a comprehensive regional peace agreement" and respect previous international agreements Israel has signed — an apparent reference to accords reached with the Palestinians.

But the accord does not commit the cabinet to working towards the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu says the economic situation in the occupied West Bank should be improved before negotiations take place on other issues.

The agreement also states that the government would work against those Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that Israeli authorities consider illegal.


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