Text size

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

During his first ever speech at the world body's headquarters in New York, Obama called on Wednesday for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks "without preconditions."

"The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security - a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people," Obama told the UN.

"Obama is always trying to maintain a balance," Lieberman told Haaretz. "For us, the positive aspect is that he said that Israel is a Jewish state."

"He also spoke very clearly about Iran, and we see his speech in a very positive light," the foreign minister said. "The three-way meeting [between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Obama on Tuesday] had a very positive effect because the main thing is that we showed that we do not intend to compromise on our positions and that we will need to conduct a dialogue without preconditions."

Senior officials in the Israeli delegation to the UN say that it would be realistic to expect peace negotiations with the Palestinians to resume within five weeks. Israeli officials said no specifics of any future peace deal were discussed during the tripartite summit.

"The president of the United States has the toughest job in the world," Lieberman said. "One can empathize with his position. And he has problems that are far more serious than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ? North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan."

"Whoever saw [Libyan ruler Muammar] Gadhafi's appearance at the UN today understands that clear-thinking logic is not the strong suit of leaders in the Middle East," Lieberman said, citing Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements denying the Holocaust.

"We cannot expect a speech by an American president to resemble that of the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party or even the Labor Party," Lieberman said.

Israel and the U.S. have been trying to reach a compromise over the contentious issue of West Bank settlement construction. Washington has demanded a complete halt to settlement construction while Israel has said it is willing to consider a temporary hiatus.

Netanyahu said on Wednesday he welcomed Obama's call to resume negotiations with the Palestinians "without preconditions."

"I very much value it," Netanyahu told Israel's Channel 2 television in an interview broadcast from New York, responding to Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

"The president said let's come and resume the peace process without preconditions. As you know I have been saying that for nearly six months. I was happy," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said Wednesday that the U.S. demand for a complete settlement freeze in the West Bank was "costing us a great deal of time."

Netanyahu, who has rebuffed the Obama administration's repeated calls for a complete freeze to activity in West Bank settlements, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer:

"I think that raising this condition, something that hasn't happened in 15years of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue - nobody put this precondition - this is just costing us a great deal of time."

Netanyahu also said he saw Obama's main message, also from a three-way summit on Tuesday with Abbas, as "let's start moving, and stop putting obstacles, as unfortunately the Palestinians have done."

Abbas has demanded Israel freeze Jewish settlement construction in occupied land before peace talks, stalled since late last year, can resume.

Palestinians were disappointed by Obama's roll-back to urging "restraint" in settlement activity in his talks with Middle East leaders on Tuesday, rather than the outright freeze he had earlier sought.

"The U.S. administration has retreated from its position at the expense of peace," Mohammed Dahlan, a senior spokesman and former security chief for Abbas's Fatah party told Reuters.

Netanyahu said he also welcomed what he called Obama's "unequivocal support for Israel as the nation of the Jewish people" in his UN speech.

Abbas has rejected Netanyahu's call to recognise Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, a demand Palestinians fear could weaken their demand for Palestinian refugees to return to their former towns and villages in what is now Israel.