WASHINGTON – Israel must act boldly in order to advance a peace agreement with the Palestinians, President Barack Obama said in his highly anticipated Mideast policy speech Thursday, presenting his vision for future negotiations.
"The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation," he said.
"There are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward (on peace,)" Obama said. "I disagree… the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever."
Obama blamed both Israel and the Palestinians for failing to meet expectations in their pursuit of peace thus far.
"Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks," he said.
Turning his attention to the Jewish State, the president stressed that America's friendship with Israel "is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values."
Obama noted that America's committed to Israel's security is "unshakable," but added that "precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace."
Addressing the Palestinian side, the president said that efforts to delegitimize Israel "will end in failure."
"Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state," Obama said. "Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist."
Presenting his vision for peace, Obama declared that "a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people."
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," he said.
Two states based on 1967 borders - Obama (Photo: AP)
"As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat," Obama said.
Obama acknowledged that the issues of Jerusalem and refugees remain emotional stumbling blocks to achieving peace, but said that in order to achieve progress both sides must move forward with talks about territory and security.
"I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion," he said. "But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past."
Addressing the recent turmoil in the Middle East, Obama said: "For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa."
Turning his attention to Syria, the president condemned Damascus' choice of "the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens."
"The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime – including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him," he said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has a choice at this time, either to lead changes in his country or leave," Obama said.
"He now has a choice, either lead the change or get out of the way," he said.
"We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran," Obama said.