WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Friday warned that the recent violence between the Israelis and Palestinians will likely persist in the absence of a two-state solution.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms violence directed against innocent people -- and believe that Israel has a right to maintain basic law and order and protect its citizens from knife attacks,” Obama said at a press conference at the White House.
“Over time, the only way that Israel is going to be truly secure, and the only way the Palestinians are going to be able to meet the aspirations of their people, is if they are two states living side by side in peace and security," he said.
The president’s remarks come amid an outbreak of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which escalated on Friday after Hamas declared a “day of rage” against Israel.
The violence was initially sparked by Palestinian fears that the Israeli government was violating an agreement that forbids Jewish prayer at the Al-Aqsa mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. Analysts warn that the conflict could spiral into a third intifada -- a broad uprising against the Israeli occupation, which is now in its 48th year.
Seven Israelis and 37 Palestinians have been killed in the current wave. While the violence on the Palestinian side is limited to lone-wolf attacks by young males, Israeli security forces are responsible for several of the Palestinian deaths.
In suggesting that the violence by Palestinians is tied to the continued occupation, Obama echoed Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments earlier this week. “There’s been a massive increase in settlement over the course of the last years ... and there’s an increase in the violence because there’s this frustration that’s growing,” Kerry said Tuesday, noting that Israelis are similarly frustrated by the prolonged conflict.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday rejected the notion that settlement expansion and the lack of a political path forward for a two-state solution are to blame for the increase in Palestinian attacks. Rather, he argued that the violence is committed by Palestinians who reject any Israeli presence.
“They don’t want us here, if they are frustrated, that frustration will continue, we will continue to be here,” Netanyahu told foreign reporters at a press briefing on Thursday.
He also said the violence was spurred by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Make [Abbas] accountable and stop trying to justify him in any way -- not with settlements, not with the peace process, not with anything,” Netanyahu continued, accusing the Palestinian leader of failing to condemn the violence.
While Abbas has not broadly denounced the past several weeks of violence, he condemned an arson attack on a Jewish shrine in the West Bank on Friday, and ordered repairs and an investigation into the attack.
Recognizing that the peace process is likely to remain stalled for some time, Obama urged both sides to focus in the short term on "making sure innocent people aren't being killed."
"I don't think we can wait for all the issues that exist between Israel and the Palestinians to be settled in order for us to try to tamp down the violence right now," he said.
At the request of the Jordanians, the U.N. Security Council is expected to convene an emergency session on Friday to address the violence. Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N. Riyad Mansour has called on the U.N. to deploy a protection force to East Jerusalem to defuse the clashes.