Prodding the international community,President Barack Obama called Friday “for all of us to redouble our efforts” toward separate Israeli and Palestinian states. “The moment is now for us to act,” he declared.
Alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel following his Mideast trip, Obama said: “The United States can’t force peace upon the parties.” But he said America has “at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart.”
The president announced he was dispatching special envoy George J. Mitchell back to the region next week to follow up on his speech inCairo a day earlier in which he called for both Israelis and Palestinians to give ground in the standoff.
Obama says Israel must live up to commitments it made under the so-called “Road Map” peace outline to stop constructing settlements and the Palestinians must control violence-inciting acts and statements.
Fresh from visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Obama said that while regional powers and the entire international community must help achieve peace, responsibility ultimately falls to Israelis and Palestinians to reach an accord.
Merkel, for her part, promised to cooperate on this long-sought goal. She said the two leaders discussed a time frame for a peace process but did not elaborate.
“I think that, with the new American government and the president, there is a truly unique opportunity to revive this peace process or, let us put this very cautiously, this process of negotiations,” Merkel said.
Added Obama: “I think the moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises.”
He renewed his call for Israel to halt West Bank settlement activity and follow through on such previously made commitments, adding: “I recognize the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that done and I’m very sympathetic to how hard that will be.” He also pressed Palestinians anew to dial back anti-Israel rhetoric, saying thatPalestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “has made progress on this issue, but not enough.”
While Obama did not address peace-process benchmarks, he told international reporters Thursday in Egypt: “I don’t want to impose an artificial timeline.” He added: “When things stall, everybody knows it … I want to have a sense of movement and progress.”
Touching Friday on an issue that has strained the American-German relationship, Obama also said he didn’t seek any commitments from Germany to take a dozen prisoners when the United States closes its prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. German officials have said most should be resettled in America.
Merkel said her country is prepared to “constructively contribute” to U.S. closure efforts and said she was confident of eventually reaching a “common solution” on the prisoners’ fate.
On other matters, Obama said he’s seen “some progress” in bringing economic stability to the world, and said he and Merkel agreed that they must continue to “work very closely together” on the issue. Addressingclimate change, Obama also said “we’re going to have to make some tough decisions and take concrete actions.”
The two leaders spoke to reporters after meeting privately at a castle in this east Germany city that has bitter wartime memories. Starting on the night of Feb. 13, 1945, first British, then American bombers pounded the defenseless and largely non-strategic architectural gem, igniting a firestorm in which 25,000 people died — and in so doing, creating an enduring controversy.
Obama did not address the firebombing, and was in Dresden at the invitation of Merkel, who hails from her country’s East.
Later, Obama was to tour the Buchenwald concentration camp, where an estimated 56,000 people perished. Thousands were Jews — worked to death, shot or hanged by Nazi guards.
In Thursday’s speech in Egypt, Obama issued a scathing indictment of those who question the Holocaust, saying that to do so “is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.”
“Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews is deeply wrong and only serves to evoke in the minds of the Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve,” Obama added.
It was a pointed message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts that 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and who has urged that Israel be wiped from the map.
“He should make his own visit” to Buchenwald, Obama told NBC in an interview Friday. He added: “I have no patience for people who would deny history.”
Earlier, the president told reporters: “The international community has an obligation, even when it’s inconvenient, to act when genocide is occurring.”
Obama is the first U.S. president to visit Buchenwald, and the stop was personal. A great-uncle helped liberate a nearby satellite camp, Ohrdruf, in early April 1945 just days before other U.S. Army units overran Buchenwald.
Ohrdruf no longer stands. But Buchenwald’s main gate, crematorium, hospital and two guard towers have been kept as a memorial.
Accompanying Obama to the site was Elie Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, author and Holocaust survivor.
Following the tour, Obama was flying to Landstuhl medical hospital for private visits with U.S. troops recovering from wounds sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he was ending the day in Paris — reuniting with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha, who planned a brief holiday in the City of Light after commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day invasion in France.