United States President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both said they have not given up on fostering peace in the Middle East during their first meeting at the White House since the bitterly contested Iran nuclear deal was approved. The talks come as Israel continued to experience surging unrest between Israelis and Palestinians.
Netanyahu said he remained committed to a demilitarized Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, although many close to Obama have said the U.S. president has abandoned hope of reaching a long-term agreement between Israeli and Palestinian officials by his departure from the White House. Obama said during his discussion with Netanyahu that he would like to seek the premier’s thoughts on ways to lower tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and get "back on a path toward peace," the Associated Press reported.
A recent surge of violence, which began mid-September around the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, has since spilled across much of Israel and the West Bank, tarnishing chances for peace talks in the immediate future. Palestinian attackers have lunged at Israeli civilians and security forces with knives, and dozens of Palestinian demonstrators have died in clashes with the Israeli military. Many have accused Netanyahu’s policies, including the expansion of settlements, of enflaming tensions in the region.
Netanyahu was seeking a boost in annual U.S. military aid for Israeli security. According to reports, he would like to see some $5 billion in U.S. aid per year, compared to the $3.1 billion per year aid package expected to expire in 2017. The request for aid comes amid rising threats in the region, including the spread of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. It also comes as the Iran nuclear deal has prompted adversaries of Iran across the region to boost their defenses. The deal, which was signed by the U.S., Iran and five other powers, would see many sanctions lifted against Iran in exchange for a commitment from the country to abandon its nuclear enrichment program.
Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed concern that a post-sanction Iran would build up its military arsenal and step up its funding of militant groups across the region.