U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday backed the changes in the Arab world and presented his vision on the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama, in his much-anticipated speech, praised popular protests sweeping the Middle East as a "historic opportunity" and said promoting reform was his administration's top priority for the region.
He also piled up pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, saying for the first time that he must stop a brutal crackdown or "get out of the way."
His spoke about the need to find an end to Israel's occupation ahead of his talks on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation," Obama told an audience of U.S. and foreign diplomats at the State Department in Washington.
Obama also reaffirmed an unshakable commitment to Israel's security and condemned what he called "symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations," referring to the Palestinians plan to seek General Assembly recognition for statehood in September.
But he acknowledged that a new reconciliation deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas raised "legitimate questions" for Israel. "I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened," Obama said. "But I'm convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past."
Most of Obama's speech focused on the protests in the Arab world. "The people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow," he said.
Obama announced billions of dollars in aid for Egypt and Tunisia to bolster their political transitions.