Speaking at a press conference today in Ramallah, President Obama said he doesn't "want to put the cart before the horse" in terms of dealing with the so-called settlement issue before the security issue:
"Mr. President, President Abbas," said the CBS reporter. "On behalf of all my colleagues, I want to get more specific on the questions of settlement and the overall peace process. Mr. President, when you started your administration, you called for a halt to settlement activity. That held for a while and dissipated and then late last year when the Israeli government announced very sensible settlement activity in the E-1 zone, your administration put out a statement that many in this region thought was either tepid or completely non-responsive. What would you say here in Ramallah, Mr. President, to those entrepreneurial Palestinians you referenced who believe have you been equivocal or nonresponsive on the issue of Israeli settlements?"
"Well, Major," said Obama, "I think I answered the question previously about settlement. You mentioned E-1 in particular, I think that is an example of a -- at least a public statement by the Israeli government that would be very difficult to square with a two-state solution. I've said that to President Netanyahu. I don't think that's a secret. With respect to whether there is a requirement or freeze or moratorium -- I want to repeat what I just said earlier which is if the only way to even begin the conversation is that we get everything right, at the outset, or at least each party is constantly negotiating about what is required to get into talks in the first place, then we're never get to the broader issue which is, how do you actually structure a state of Palestine that is sovereign and provides Palestinian people dignity? And how do you provide Israel confidence about its security? Which are the core issues."
Obama continued, "The core issue right now, how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and how do we get security for the Israeli people? And that's the essence of this negotiation. And that's not to say settlements are not important. It is to say that if we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved. So I don't want to put the cart before the horse. I want to make sure that we are getting to the core issues and the substance. Understanding that both sides should be doing what they can to build confidence, to rebuild a sense of trust and that's where hopefully the U.S. government can be helpful."