WASHINGTON – "The Palestinian people are having a very tough time right now economically, and it is in US interests to make sure that they have a sense of hope and opportunity and a Palestinian state. I think it's in Israelis' interest as well," US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told NBC's Meet the Press Sunday on the heels of his Mideast tour.
"What I've said is that we're going to make sure that the Palestinians have a state that allows them to prosper as long as we also have certainty that Israel's security is not being compromised. I think it's in the interest of both parties, but we are the critical ingredient in terms of making sure that a deal actually gets done," he said.
"I give the Bush administration credit that the Annapolis process has gotten Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert in Israel and President (Mahmoud) Abbas in the Palestinian territories to have very serious and frank discussions. I think they have moved the ball forward. They may not be able to finish the job. They certainly can't finish it without serious participation by the next administration, and we've got to start early".
According to Obama, if the US can "solve" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf States to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hizbullah as a way to stir up mischief in the region," he said, "if we've gotten an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon."
Responding to Meet the Press' Tom Brokow's remark that "anytime an American goes to the Middle East, goes to an Arab capital, on the street or in a corridors of power, they say, 'You just do whatever the Israelis want you to do, and the politicians come out here looking for Jewish votes'," Obama said, "I don't think that's entirely fair. This is my second trip to Israel and the West Bank. And the first time that I went, I did meet with Palestinian businessmen, I did talk to Palestinian students in Ramallah.
"When you're in a region for a day, you've got a lot of boxes that you've got to check. And in Israel in particular, a big chunk of our day was meeting with not only the current prime minister, but former prime ministers and a whole bunch of people who intend to be prime minister. And it was important for us to make sure that we had covered our bases there," said the presidential hopeful.