Obama Says Too Many Israelis Ready to Abandon Peace

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U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York September 24, 2014. Adrees Latif/Reuters

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that too many Israelis were ready to abandon a bid for peace in the region and, in a departure from his prepared remarks, added that this was something Israelis should think about.

"The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace," Obama told the United Nations General Assembly during a 38-minute speech addressing many of the world's problems.

Then, departing from printed remarks made available to reporters beforehand, Obama added: "And that’s something worthy of reflection within Israel."

"Because let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza," Obama said, speaking a week before he is due to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

His comments followed a seven-week Gaza war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that ended in late August with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

Israel soon afterwards announced a land appropriation in the occupied West Bank that an anti-settlement group termed the biggest in 30 years, drawing Palestinian condemnation and a rebuke from its U.S. ally.

"So long as I am president, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just and more safe with two states living side by side, in peace and security," Obama said.

Asked by Reuters to respond to Obama's remarks, Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor declined comment.

Due to meet Netanyahu on Oct. 1, Obama said the United States would never give up on the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace. He said violence in the Middle East should cure anyone of the illusion the Arab-Israeli conflict is the main source of the region's problems.

Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have been strained amid tensions over failed U.S.-led Middle East peace moves and U.S. diplomacy with Iran, whose nuclear program Israelis view as an existential threat.

On a visit to the Oval Office in 2011 Netanyahu famously lectured the U.S. president on the long struggles of the Jewish people, as he sought to counter Obama's call to base any peace agreement on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.