The Middle East peace process faces "enormous obstacles" but the United States will do all it can to achieve a "just" outcome in talks between Israelis and Palestinians, US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.
Speaking during a trip to Indonesia a day after criticizing Israelis and Palestinians for not doing enough to reach a breakthrough, Obama said the pursuit of peace in the region was persistant despite setbacks.
"Israelis and Palestinians restarted direct talks, but enormous obstacles remain," he said.
"But let there be no doubt: we will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just, and that is in the interest of all the parties involved: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
On Tuesday tensions rose between the US and Israel after Obama told a press conference in Indonesia that Israeli construction in east Jerusalem is "never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations".
Netanyahu responded that "Jerusalem is not a settlement". He said, "Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. Israel has never restricted itself regarding any kind of building in the city, which is home to some 800,000 people – including during the 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank."
The prime minister also told Fox Business Network that attention given to east Jerusalem construction of Jewish homes was "overblown".
"You are talking about a handful of apartments that really don't affect the (peace) map at all contrary to impressions that might be perceived from certain news reports," he said.
'Years of Muslim mistrust'
Obama added Wednesday that much more needs to be done to repair frayed US relations with the Muslim world in an acknowledgement of the difficulties in eradicating "years of mistrust."
In a speech highlighting a nostalgic visit to Indonesia, where he spent four years as a young boy, Obama spoke fondly of his formative years in the world's most populous Muslim country.
"Indonesia is a part of me," said Obama, who left in the morning for the G20 summit in South Korea, the next stop on a 10-day Asia tour.
His speech was an update to a major address he gave 17 months ago in Cairo where he declared a "new beginning" in US-Muslim relations after the tensions over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Bush government's response to them.
Since his Cairo address, irritants remain on both sides. al-Qaeda still seeks to attack its Western enemies. Little progress has been made in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and US troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Confidence in Obama has dropped in many Muslim nations as a result.
"In the 17 months that have passed we have made some progress, but much more work remains to be done," Obama said.
Obama said "no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust" but he promised, "No matter what setbacks may come, the United States is committed to human progress. That is who we are. That is what we have done. That is what we will do."
Minister admits reluctant handshake
Meanwhile, a conservative Muslim government minister is admitting he shook hands with first lady Michelle Obama in welcoming her to Indonesia but says it wasn't his choice.
Footage on YouTube shows otherwise, sparking a debate that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere.
"I tried to prevent (being touched) with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me (so) we touched," Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring told tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.
While Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, the vast majority practice a moderate form of the faith. But Sembiring has flaunted his conservatism and says he avoids contact with women who are not related to him.
The minister was among the dignitaries in a receiving line that greeted President Barack Obama and his wife as they arrived in Jakarta on Tuesday. Indonesians gathered around television sets across the country to watch the American president touch down. Children at the school he attended practiced a song dedicated to him just in case he visited.
In footage of the official welcome, Sembiring appeared to share his countrymen's enthusiasm. He smiled broadly as he shook the president's hand and then reached with both hands to grasp Michelle Obama's. But later he said she forced their contact.
His denial was in a response to tweets from Indonesians who noted the handshake and questioned his long-standing claims that, as a good Muslim, he restricts his contact with women.
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