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Obama pushes Israel on settlements, Arabs on ties

Israel should extend its settlement building moratorium and Arab states should move toward normal ties with the Jewish state to promote fledgling peace talks, United States President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly three weeks after Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed direct peace talks, Obama urged world leaders to make sure “this time is different” from previous failed efforts to end the six-decade conflict.

Obama said all sides should look beyond decades of mistrust and bloodshed and resist pessimism in support of talks between the parties aimed at creating a Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security.

In addition to Obama, the leaders of China, Iran and Turkey will take a turn at centre stage at the United Nations on Thursday amid global disputes over currency rates and nuclear proliferation.

Obama told Iran the door remains open to diplomacy to resolve concerns about its nuclear programme, which Washington believes is designed to develop weapons but Tehran says is for solely peaceful purposes.

Obama delivered his global message from the UN podium at a time when Americans are fixated by the sluggish US economy ahead of November 2 congressional elections, in which voters are expected to punish his Democrats and reward Republicans.

Speaking in unusually blunt terms, Obama specifically urged countries that have pledged support for the Palestinians to meet their obligations for both political and financial support and said they “must stop trying to tear Israel down.”

“Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds,” he said.

Extend moratorium
The United States is trying to keep direct talks brokered by Obama between Israel and the Palestinians on track.

But Israel’s refusal so far to extend a moratorium on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank has put the process at risk, with the Palestinians threatening to quit the negotiations if settlement construction resumes when the partial moratorium expires on September 30.

“We believe that the moratorium should be extended,” Obama said. “We also believe that talks should press on until completed … Now is the time for this opportunity to be seized, so that it doesn’t slip away.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition government is dominated by pro-settler parties, has said he will not extend the construction moratorium but could limit the scope of further building in some settlements.

Israel’s delegation was absent from the assembly hall, but a spokesperson for the Israeli UN mission said it was due to the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles.

“It’s not a boycott,” she said.

Obama, who brought the two sides together in Washington on September 2 to restart direct talks after a 20-month hiatus, spelled out that Arab states must show Israel how much it has to gain from seeking peace.

“Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel,” he said, while also asking Arab states to support the Palestinian Authority politically and financially. – Reuters

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