WASHINGTON — As Mideast peace talks opened Wednesday at the White House, President Barack Obama condemned the killings of four Israeli settlers Tuesday by Palestinian Islamist militants and vowed, "This is not going to stop us."
Standing outside the Oval Office with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their private White House meeting, Obama said that "there are going to be those who are going to do everything they can to undermine these talks, but we are going to remain stalwart." He said the United States remained "unwavering" in support of Israel's security.
Obama thanked Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom he was to meet later in the day, for proceeding with the peace talks despite Tuesday's attack, for which the militant group Hamas took credit. Obama also was to meet privately with Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The leaders planned a private working dinner Wednesday evening.
Direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas were to resume Thursday for the first time in nearly two years at the State Department.
The Obama administration has set a goal of one year for reaching a peace deal, but hurdles were high in both camps even before the Tuesday shooting near Hebron. In Israel, some voices were calling for Netanyahu to return home, and a settler organization threatened to break the Israeli government's ban on new West Bank construction, according to news reports.
Obama sought to keep the talks on track despite the added pressure. "We are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist activities," he said. "So the message should go out to Hamas and everybody else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us from not only ensuring a secure Israel but also securing a longer-lasting peace."
Obama said that Abbas also had condemned the attack, adding, "I have the utmost confidence in him and his belief in a two-state solution in which the people of Israel and the Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security."
Netanyahu described those behind the attacks as people who "butcher everything that they oppose."
The Israeli leader said his talks Wednesday morning with Obama had been "open, productive, serious in the quest for peace," and "also centered around the need to have security arrangements that are able to roll back this kind of terror and other threats to Israel's security. That is a fundamental element, an important foundation of the peace that we seek and work for."
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