Obama Tells Israel: Skepticism Justified, but Be Hopeful for Peace

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an Oval Office meeting last year. The two met at the White House again on Tuesday. AP

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an Oval Office meeting last year. The two met at the White House again on Tuesday.
AP

Israelis should be hopeful about the peace process, President Obama said Wednesday -- but that doesn't mean being "blindly optimistic," he said.

In an interview with Yonit Levi of Israeli TV Channel 2, set to air today, Mr. Obama said the message of hope, but not of blind optimism, was one of the themes of his presidential campaign that could be applied to the Middle East.

"I think you have to be clear-eyed about the situation," he said. "And Israelis, rightly, look at the past and have skepticism about what's possible... And yet, if you think back to the founding of Israel, there were a lot of people who thought that that wasn't possible, either. ... And so that should be a great source of hope."

The interview was conducted the day after Mr. Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, after which they stressed their solid relationship. The president also praised Israel for "quickly and effectively" easing its 3-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

CBS News Anchor Katie Couric sat down with Netanyahu yesterday and asked him how he can give people hope about the peace process.

"Isn't it about time that we actually sit down, the Prime Minister of Israel, myself, with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, with the help of President Obama?" Netanyahu said. "Let's sit down and let's solve this conflict."

He said he was willing to make concessions and that the Palestinians should be as well.

"If you want to be a leader, do what's right," Netanyahu added. "What's right is to achieve peace and to anchor it in security. Security is not the enemy of peace, it's the facilitator of peace. If we get through the security issues i think we'll make a broad leap towards peace. I'd like to defy the skeptics, all the cynics, all those who say it can't be done."

In his interview with Levi, Mr. Obama also talked about what he said he missed most about his life before the presidency: Taking walks without being recognized.

"I remember when I first visited Jerusalem, I could wander through the Old City and haggle for some gifts to bring back to Michelle, or stand at the Wailing Wall, and people didn't know who I was," Mr. Obama said. "And that is a profound pleasure that is very hard to experience now."

"The last time -- the second time I went to the Wailing Wall, I put my prayer -- and somebody pulled it out, and the next thing I know it was printed in the newspaper," the president added, laughing.

Watch Katie Couric's full interview with Netanyahu below:


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