Israel needs to take tough decisions if peace talks with the Palestinians are to have a future, US President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a joint address at the White House as a major snowstorm blanketed the city, the two leaders, who have struggled to overcome mutual antipathy, once again found themselves very publicly at odds.
Obama pushed for a decision on the peace process, while Netanyahu insisted Israel had done its part and said Iran is now the most urgent threat.
Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged in seven months of direct peace talks which are due to expire at the end of April.
“The timeframe that we have set up for completing these negotiations is coming near and some tough decisions are going to have to be made,” Obama said.
“It’s my belief that ultimately it is still possible to create two states. But it’s difficult and it requires compromise on all sides.”
But the Israeli leader hit back, telling the president that Israel had taken “unprecedented steps” to advance peace over the last 20 years, and that the ball was now firmly in the Palestinians’ court.
“Israel has been doing its part, I regret to say the Palestinians haven’t,” he said, noting that in the past two decades, Israel had both frozen settlement construction, uprooted entire settlements and released hundreds of Palestinian “terrorists.”
Netanyahu quickly moved to declare Iran as the number one priority.
“The greatest challenge, undoubtedly, is to prevent Iran from acquiring the capacity to make nuclear weapons,” he told Obama, leaning forward in his chair and gesticulating to make the point.
Although his tone was courteous, Netanyahu’s remarks, particularly on the peace process, came across as a lecture to Obama on recent Israeli history.
The US leader looked on impassively, nodding almost imperceptibly at several points, resting his clenched jaw on his hand.