President Obama said on Thursday in a joint press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“I’ve been clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leadership that … we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace,” Obama said.
A recent European Union report called the Israeli government’s settlement policies “the biggest single threat to the two-state solution.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Abbas “is so eager to return to peace talks with the Israelis that he may soften his demand that Israel’s president publicly pledge to halt construction of new settlements on Palestinian land before such negotiations can resume.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “can pledge to you secretly that he will stop settlement activities during the period of negotiations,” say talking points prepared for Abbas ahead of his meeting with Obama, which add, “(He does not have to announce it.)”
In other news:
The Washington Post reports: A panel of White House advisers warned President Obama in a secret report that U.S. spy agencies were paying inadequate attention to China, the Middle East and other national security flash points because they had become too focused on military operations and drone strikes, U.S. officials said.
The AP reports: The jobs picture for the nation’s veterans improved significantly last year, particularly for those who have served since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Labor Department said Wednesday.
Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria, said on Wednesday that there is no evidence yet that the Syrian government or rebels have used chemical weapons. “We are looking very carefully at the reports,” Ford told the House Foreign Relations Committee. “So far, we have no evidence which substantiates the reports.”