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In the last days before President Obama took office, Israel's military was striking targets in Gaza. The shooting stopped just in time for the inauguration but nobody expected the challenge of Middle East peace to go away. The issue returned to the headlines this week. The new American president met Israel's new prime minister and it was a moment for President Obama to downplay his differences with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA: This is Netanyahu's second time around as Israel's prime minister, his new tenure having begun at the end of March, while President Obama is about to complete his fourth month in office. Both campaigned for change in foreign policy and each will be judged in part by how well he handles the other. As a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has reached out to the Muslim world, prompting some weariness among Israel's citizens and its supporters. But in the Oval office yesterday, the president was effusive in praising his guest. He called their session extraordinarily productive. He spoke of the special U.S. relationship with Israel.
President BARACK OBAMA: It is a stalwart ally of the United States. We have historical ties, emotional ties.
GONYEA: And he uttered the words that Israelis need to hear from every U.S. president.
Pres. OBAMA: I have said, from the outset, that when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East, that Israel's security is paramount. And I repeated that to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Israel): President Obama, thank you. Thank you for your friendship to Israel and your friendship to me. You're a great leader, a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel.
GONYEA: Mr. Obama has stated repeatedly that the goal is a two-state solution in the Middle East - Israel and a new Palestinian state, living side by side in peace. Netanyahu, a long time hardliner, does not use that language, but yesterday he did offer this.
Prime Minister NETANYAHU: If, however, the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish State, if they (unintelligible) to educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think that we can come at a substantial solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace. And I add prosperity, because I'm a great believer in this.
GONYEA: If all that happens, he added, the terminology will take care of itself. President Obama did raise the sensitive issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank yesterday.
Pres. OBAMA: We have to make progress in settlements. The settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That's a difficult issue, I recognize that. But it's an important one and it has to be addressed.
GONYEA: But common ground was easier to find on Iran. And what both leaders see as it's drive to develop nuclear weapons. Netanyahu…
Prime Minister NETANYAHU: We don't see closely on this. We see exactly eye to eye on this that we - we want to move simultaneously and in parallel on two fronts - the front of peace and the front of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.
GONYEA: Next week President Obama meets with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak at the White House. Days later Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be in Washington.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, The White House.
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