Obama did not address a large Palestinian audience during his visit, a testament to how disillusioned much of the Arab world has grown with his administration.
His policy adjustments left Palestinian leaders, whom he talked to earlier in the day, with a measure of U.S. moral support for an independent state. But Obama also made clear that Palestinians should drop conditions — that Israel freeze settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem — that he once supported as a way to restart negotiations.
That approach was greeted with doubt by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is dousing young Palestinians’ aspirations to live in a state of their own. “This is very dangerous,’’ he said in a joint news conference with Obama in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The ebullience in Jerusalem and the uneasiness in Ramallah captured the contours of Obama’s challenge as he seeks to revive the unsuccessful Israeli-Palestinian peace process of his early first term.
As he prepared to move on to Jordan on Friday, Obama made clear that he wants his new secretary of state, John F. Kerry, to build on the foundation he laid here in concept during the visit.
But senior administration officials said no specific plans are in place to revive direct negotiations — last held in earnest more than four years ago.
Obama told both sides Thursday that the talks, at a time of far-reaching change in the broader Arab world, should begin quickly.
Drawing on his political experience, the president added that doing so would require sacrifices that may come about only through the demands of the Israeli and Palestinian people.
“Let me say this as a politician: I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks,” Obama said to loud applause in Jerusalem. “You must create the change that you want to see.”
He offered the Israeli audience the warm embrace that much of the public here has become accustomed to from U.S. presidents, but didn’t receive from this one during his first term.
His delivery — and unvarnished celebration of Israel’s achievements — at times electrified the audience members, many of them university students bused in for the event. Many filled the seats, balconies and aisles to hear an American president once deeply unpopular here.
“He really inspired us to do something and go over the heads of the politicians,” said Arbel Freiman, 26, a computer science student at Tel Aviv University. “It was good he talked to the people. People think they don’t have the power to bring change.”