WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday that it will require tough decisions and risks to achieve peace with Israel and said now is the time for leaders on both sides to "embrace this opportunity."
In White House talks overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, Abbas said "time is not on our side" in U.S.-brokered negotiations with Israel and called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go ahead with the scheduled release of a final group of Palestinian prisoners by the end of March.
Obama, who met Netanyahu two weeks ago, made clear that he was not giving up on the troubled U.S.-led peace process despite widespread pessimism about reaching a "framework" deal that would extend talks beyond an April deadline.
"It's very hard," Obama said. "We're going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we're able to move it forward, and I hope that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks."
Abbas agreed that a solution should entail a Palestinian state built on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, though Netanyahu has declared that Israel would never completely return to earlier lines it considered indefensible.
Looming over the peace effort is the question of whether Israel this month will carry out the release of a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, which it agreed in order restart negotiations last year. U.S. officials fear that if Israel scraps the release the peace talks could break down.