Obama, Palestinian leader push for progress on Israel 

While calling the situation in Gaza "unsustainable," President Obama said he still believes there could be "significant progress" in the Middle East peace process this year.

Meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, Obama said the two agreed that Israel has a right to police arms entering the region by sea.

But the Israeli blockade of Gaza, under intense international scrutiny since the May 31 attack on a ship trying to clear it, needs a new "conceptual framework," Obama said.

"Increasingly you're seeing debates within Israel recognizing the problems with the status quo," Obama said.

Still, Abbas did not come away empty-handed. Obama pledged $400 million in new aide for Palestinians. The package includes funding for school construction, clean water, business development and more.

The president is hoping to get the stalled peace process back on track. He has declined to directly condemn Israel's attack on the Turkish-launched ship, and said he remains optimistic that a two-state solution can be reached.

"If both Palestinians and Israelis can recognize that they have a common interest in moving off of what has been this dead end, then I believe that potentially we can make significant progress before the end of the year," Obama said.

While he made only fleeting mention of Turkey in his remarks, the Muslim country's intensifying rhetoric against Israel is adding a thorny new complexity to Obama's efforts in the Middle East.

Turkey, once a reliable ally, also has annoyed the White House by increasingly aligning itself with Iran, which on Wednesday received a new round of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program.

"The problem between Turkey and America today is Iran; it's not so much the flotilla crisis," said Henri J. Barkey, a Middle East scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Yes, the Israelis bungled the raid, but clearly it inflamed the situation at a time when, already, Turkish-American relations were on a very difficult trajectory because of Iran," Barkey said.

For his part, Abbas said he is looking for progress from the Israelis in order to move toward direct talks on the future.

"Fifty-seven Arab and Islamic countries have said that they would recognize Israel if Israel withdrew from the occupied Arab land," Abbas said.

Obama to a large extent has staked his foreign policy credentials on solving the Middle East problem -- a long-running standoff that has confounded five administrations before him.

Last year, progress on forging peace stalled as Abbas and then-incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu each rejected the idea of statehood for the other.

Vice President Joe Biden, Obama's in-house foreign policy advisor, is currently making the rounds with key allies in the process, urging a renewed focus on the two-state solution.

The U.S. has joined an international push for an investigation of the May 31 flotilla incident, in which nine people aboard a ship trying to beat the blockade were killed by Israeli troops.


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