Certainly one of the most important stops of the President's busy visit to New York was a series of meetings between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Immediately following bilateral meetings with each of them, and just before a final trilateral meeting, President Obama commented
on the progress being made and clearly stated his message to the leaders:
And so my message to these two leaders is clear. Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward. We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back. Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency. And that is why I have asked Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell to carry forward the work that we do here today.
(President Barack Obama, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands before a trilateral at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, New York on Tuesday September 22, 2009. Official White House photo by Samantha Appleton)
Afterwards, in a twenty-minute question and answer session
in New York City, US special envoy George Mitchell spoke with the press regarding the trilateral meeting, emphasizing the importance of both parties' desire to re-launch a peace initiative.
The President had direct and constructive meetings with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, and then he held his first trilateral meeting with the two leaders. As the President said, this was an important moment. Let me first give you some brief details.
Each of the three meetings was about 40 minutes long. The tone was positive and determined. The President made clear his commitment to moving forward, and the leaders shared their commitment. In the meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, the President was joined by Secretary Clinton, General Jones, Tom Donilon and myself. For the trilateral meeting, the President was joined by Secretary Clinton, General Jones and myself.
In their meetings, Prime Minister Netanyahu was joined by Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, and National Security Advisor Arad. President Abbas was joined by Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabo, Negotiations Affairs Department Director Saeb Erekat, and Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki.
This was the first meeting between Israelis and Palestinians at this level in nearly a year. Even nine months ago, such a meeting did not seem possible. Less than a week before President Obama took office, conflict was raging in Gaza and southern Israel, causing deep suffering on both sides. Today the atmosphere is different. Both parties share the goal of a two-state solution and of comprehensive peace. And both parties seek the re-launch of negotiations as soon as possible, although there are differences between them on how to proceed. The United States stands with them to help advance toward these objectives.
We have made progress, on security and economic opportunity in particular, but we have much further to go. As the President said in his public comments, it's past time to talk about starting negotiations. All sides must summon the will to move forward. Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon. This was a message that the President conveyed to each of the leaders in private, as well.
We're now going to enter into an intensive, yet brief, period of discussion in an effort to re-launch negotiations. Our aim is clear: to finally succeed in achieving our shared goals and to end the cycle of conflict that has done so much harm.
I will be meeting with my Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, and with the Arab states as well, and we'll build on the work that was done today to encourage all parties to take responsibility for peace and to act on their commitments.