Obama has urged Netanyahu to extend partial construction freeze


President Obama said Friday that he had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend a partial freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank because peace talks with the Palestinians “are moving in a constructive way.”

In remarks at a White House news conference, Obama argued that the freeze has been “significant” in reducing Israeli construction, which the Palestinians oppose and consider a threat to what they could gain from a peace deal. Obama did not describe Netanyahu’s response.

The freeze, set to expire Sept. 26, is the foremost immediate threat to the new round of peace talks that began this month. Netanyahu has opposed an extension, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted that he will break off talks if construction is fully resumed.

The second round of talks is scheduled to begin next week in Egypt, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton taking part.

Obama also urged Netanyahu and Abbas to consider their partners’ political problems and find ways to reduce them.

He said that because “the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu are very difficult,” Abbas needs to make goodwill gestures as well.

“You’ve got to show the Israeli public that you are serious and constructive in these talks, so that the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he were to extend the settlement moratorium, would be a little easier,” Obama said.

At a moment of widespread pessimism about the talks, Obama also appealed for American support of his effort, saying his chief motive was reducing threats to U.S. security from the region.

“We’re not just doing this to feel good,” he said.