Obama urges Palestinians to resume peace talks

President Barack Obama is frustrated over Israel and Palestine's failure to resume talks.

President Barack Obama is frustrated over Israel and Palestine's failure to resume talks.

RAMALLAH - U.S. President Barack Obama voiced opposition on Thursday to Israeli settlement building but pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his demand for a freeze before Middle East peace talks can resume.

After an effusive welcome in Israel, Obama travelled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where disillusioned Palestinians held out little hope that their moment in the spotlight of a U.S. presidential visit would speed their quest for statehood.

At a news conference with Abbas, Obama said he had "been clear" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington did not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive to "the cause of peace".

But Obama stopped short of calling for a halt to settlement expansion - a demand he had made early in his first term - and signalled his frustration over the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to find a way to resume talks stalled since 2010.

However, he offered no new ideas on how to get Israelis and Palestinians negotiating again at a time when prospects for a peace deal are grim in a region destabilised by the West's nuclear standoff with Iran and civil war in Syria.

"My argument is even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, may be engaging in activities that the other side thinks is a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get an agreement," Obama said.

The core issue now, Obama said, is how to achieve sovereignty for Palestinians and security for Israelis.

"That's not to say settlements aren't important. That's to say if we solve those problems, the settlement issue will be resolved," Obama added.

Some 150 Palestinian demonstrators gathered in Ramallah to protest against Obama's visit. They were held back by ranks of police who prevented them from nearing Abbas's compound.

A smiling Obama, accompanied by Abbas, was met by mostly stern-faced Palestinian officials along a red carpet - a stark contrast to the broad grins and backslapping during an elaborate welcoming ceremony on Wednesday at Israel's Tel Aviv airport.