JERUSALEM -- President Obama urged Israelis to see the world through the eyes of Palestinians and to “create the change” they want, in order to bring about peace in the region.
In a 45-minute address to a hall packed with university students, Obama challenged the crowd to take risks to resolve the conflict with Palestinians.
“It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day,” he said. “It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished.”
Some in the audience sat quietly as Obama argued the case for restarting the peace process, and working toward an independent Palestinian state and Israel living side by side. One heckler briefly disrupted the president’s remarks, shouting angrily in Hebrew, before security officials led him away. After the speech, several students said they disagree with the president on his main point.
The speech had the feeling of an Obama campaign event, with a crowd specially built of young people open to the president’s message. There were several ovations and applause when Obama drew allusions to the American civil rights movement.
He appealed to the audience with many of the same rhetorical devices he uses back home.
“Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: Political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do,” he said. “You must create the change that you want to see.”
As they left, many students said they appreciated Obama’s message, but were skeptical it would lead to a breakthrough in the long-stalled peace process.
“It was good to hear of his support for Israel. That means a lot,” said Yocheved Loewenstern, 22, a neuroscience student. “But if you ask any kid in Israel, they’ll say they want peace. The problem is, it’s hard to make peace with a country that doesn’t recognize your rights to be here.”
Engineering student Dor Shallev said he is skeptical of the path that Obama described.
“I don’t think President Obama knows what it’s like to live in a settlement,” said Shallev, who lived in the West Bank for schooling. “Every child in the Palestinian Authority is educated to violence, to hate . . . Before you can take further action toward peace, you have to deal with these points.”
Earlier, Obama’s aides emerged from meetings at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah saying they saw signs of hope for renewed peace talks. Obama raised the idea of moving toward talks without imposing some of the pre-conditions the two sides have demanded in the past, aides said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not appear to rule out new talks during a joint news conference afterward.