By Justin Sink - 03/21/13 12:31 PM EDT
President Obama said that the United States remains "deeply committed" to an independent Palestinian state during a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Thursday.
Obama’s visit with Abbas came on the second day of his trip to the Middle East and hours after Hamas militants fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Israeli town of Sderot.
But the president also strongly condemned the overnight rocket attack. The attack did not cause any damage or injuries, but effectively ended an eight-day cease-fire in the region.
"We condemn this violation of the important ceasefire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians, a violation Hamas has a responsibility to prevent," Obama said.
Obama added that "misery" in the region persists "because Hamas refuses to renounce violence, because Hamas cares more about enforcing its own rigid dogmas than allowing Palestinians to live freely, because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down than building Palestine up."
Hamas assumed control of the Gaza Strip following the 2006 parliamentary elections, while Abbas's authority extends only through the West Bank. The divide has complicated efforts to resume peace negotiations with Israeli.
Thursday, Obama reiterated a call for the two sides to rejoin talks without preconditions.
"If the only way to even begin the conversations is we get everything right at the outset, or at least each party is constantly in negotiation about what is required to get to the talks in the first place, then we're never going to get to the broader issue," Obama said.
But Palestinian leaders have balked at rejoining negotiations as Israelis continue to build new settlements in disputed areas. On Thursday, Obama said that the United States objected to the construction, but stopped short of saying that the Israelis should halt building before peace talks resume.
"We do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace," Obama said. "So I don't think there's any confusion as to what our position is."
In his opening remarks, Abbas emphasized that the Palestinian Authority believed a peace deal could still happen.
"We believe that peace is necessary and inevitable. We also believe that it is possible," Abbas said.
Following his meeting with Abbas, Obama and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will take part in a roundtable with Palestinian youth and watch a dance performance at a childhood development center. Later, he will return to Israel for a major speech to the Israeli people, expected to be the signature moment of his Middle East trip.
Obama began his visit on Wednesday, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two shared a rocky relationship during Obama’s first term, in particular over efforts to block Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. But the president has sought to reassure the Israeli leader during the visit that he is committed to preventing a nuclear-armed Tehran.