ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:
Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, President Obama emerged after his series of bilateral meetings on Palestinian-Israeli peace admitting that while the upcoming negotiations are seen with some skepticism, “failure is guaranteed” if they are not attempted.
“Neither success nor failure is inevitable,” Obama said on the eve of the talks from the Rose Garden this evening. “But this much we know: If we do not make the attempt, then failure is guaranteed. If both sides do not commit to these talks in earnest, then the longstanding conflict will only continue to fester and consume another generation. And this we simply cannot allow.”
The president outlined the goals of Friday’s negotiations, noting that after nearly two years the parties will relaunch direct talks.
“These will be direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "These negotiations are intended to resolve all final status issues. The goal is a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish state of Israel and its other neighbors.”
The president noted that the talks have been greeted with some skepticism, and admitted that officials are under no illusions about progress because passions run deep on all sides.
“Years of mistrust will not disappear overnight,” he said, with a nod to past attempts at brokering a peace deal. “Building confidence will require painstaking diplomacy and trust by the parties. After all, there’s a reason that the two-state solution has eluded previous generations. This is extraordinarily complex and extraordinarily difficult.”
But Obama countered that the status quo “is unsustainable.”
“So even as we are clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, so, too, do we see the foundation for progress," he said.
The president said he believes that both leaders –- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu –- want peace, and Obama urged each of them to seize the moment during private meetings this afternoon.
“Both sides have indicated that these negotiations can be completed within one year," he said. "And as I told each of them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again — they cannot afford to let it slip away. Now is the time for leaders of courage and vision to deliver the peace that their people deserve. “
President Obama promised –- with Secretary of State Clinton nodding beside him –- that the United States will put its “full weight” behind the effort.
“We will be an active and sustained participant," he said. "We will support those who make difficult choices in pursuit of peace. But let me very clear: Ultimately, the United States cannot impose a solution, and we cannot want it more than the parties themselves."
The president said that the hard work is only beginning, and everyone can support the conversations and efforts, and not try to undermine them.
“Despite what the cynics say, history teaches us that there is a different path," President Obama said. "It is the path of resolve and determination, where compromise is possible and old conflicts, at long last, can end.”
This path, the president said, is open to the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The president made his remarks after separate and private meetings -– which he deemed “productive” lasting throughout the afternoon with Netanyahu, Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
The five men –- along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and quartet representative Tony Blair -- will have a private dinner together in the State Dining Room this evening.