March 21, 2013 -- Speaking before a young Israeli audience in Jerusalem, President Obama today delivered an impassioned plea for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peaceful two-state solution while he affirmed the "unbreakable bonds of friendship" between the United States and Israel.
"The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine," President Obama said at the Jerusalem Convention Center. "Peace is necessary, but peace is also just.
"... Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable, that real borders have to be drawn."
The president asked Israelis to consider the Palestinians' "right to self-determination and justice" as they work toward a peaceful solution.
"Put yourself in their shoes, look at the world through their eyes," the president said. "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. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished."
Israeli President Shimon Peres presented Obama with the presidential medal of distinction in a ceremony this evening where he lauded the president's push for peace.
"Your call to reopen the peace process may pave the way for the implementation of the two-state solution agreed by all of us. As you said, a Jewish state Israel, an Arab state Palestine," Peres said at the president's residence in Jerusalem. "Dear friends, I have seen in my life, I earned the right to believe that peace is attainable. As you felt today, I know this is the deep conviction of our peoples. With our resolve and your support, dear Barack Obama, we shall win and it will happen."
Prior to his speech, Obama spent the morning in the occupied West Bank, meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other political leaders who are frustrated with the frozen peace process.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Abbas in Ramallah, Obama vowed that the United States will remain "deeply committed to the creation of an independent sovereign state of Palestine" and as part of a two-state solution.
"We cannot give up," he said. "We cannot give up on the search for peace, no matter how hard it is.
But there is little hope here that the Obama administration will be able to jumpstart the peace process.
"The people of Palestine, Mr. President, who receive you today aspire to attain the simplest rights," Abbas said. "The right to freedom, independence and peace, and look forward to that day to come in which they exercise normal and natural life over the land of the state of Palestine.
"We, Mr. President, believe that peace is necessary and inevitable, and we also believe that it is possible," Abbas continued.
But peace, Abbas said, will not come "through violence, occupation, walls, settlements, arrests, siege and denial of refugee rights."
In his speech in Jerusalem, the president also issued a strong warning to the players who threaten progress toward reaching stability in Israel and the Middle East.
Drawing large applause from the crowd, Obama stressed that "every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is, a terrorist organization," and he reissued his warning to Syria about the use of chemical weapons.
"I have made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching, and we will hold you accountable," the president said.
On Iran, the president cautioned the country against obtaining and using nuclear weapons and repeated his willingness to consider all options to ensure nuclear weapons are not in the hands of the Iranian government.
"Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution," he said.
"But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained."
Obama was interrupted by hecklers once during the speech, a moment he brushed off as a familiar reminder of speeches in the United States.
"This is part of the lively debate that we talked about," he said. "I have to say we actually arranged for that because it made me feel at home. I wouldn't feel comfortable if I didn't have at least one heckler."
The president met Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom the president has had a rocky relationship.
"I know that in Israel's vibrant democracy, every word and gesture is carefully scrutinized. But I want to clear something up just so you know.
"Any drama between me and my friend Bibi [Netanyahu] over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet," Obama said today in reference to a satirical Israeli television show. "We just wanted to make sure the writers had good material."