By Jonathan Easley and Justin Sink - 03/21/13 03:11 PM EDT
"I think to some extent, we should play favorites," King said on CNN's "Starting Point." "I mean there is not an equivalency between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East. It is the only democracy in the Middle East."
"We obviously want to work with the Palestinians and want to bring about peace," King said. "But I don’t see either a moral or diplomatic equivalency between the two."
Obama met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas earlier Thursday, on day two of his trip to the region. The president spoke to reporters about the need for both sides to compromise in peace negotiations.
"If both sides can make that leap together, then not only do I believe that the Israeli people and the Palestinian people would ultimately support it in huge numbers, but I also think the world and the region would cheer," Obama said.
"There would be some who would be upset because they benefit from the current conflict. They like the status quo, they like the arrangement as it is. But I actually think that there are majorities out there who right now don’t feel helpful but still would strongly support both Palestinian and Israeli leadership that made the necessary effort and compromises for peace."
In his remarks, Obama recognized "political constraints on both sides," and chastised both Palestinian violence and Israeli settlements in disputed territories.
"If we’re going to succeed, part of what we’re going to have to do is to get out of some of the formulas and habits that have blocked progress for so long," Obama said. "Both sides are going to have to think anew."
King said Thursday he was so far encouraged by the president's trip.
"So far his trip has been successful," King said. "I think it was important for him to go there to shore up support among the Israelis because there was some concern over him over the past several years."
King’s comments represent a rare compliment from the GOP on Obama’s handling of the U.S.’s relationship with “our closest ally in the Middle East,” although King was careful to couch his praise by saying he believed it is inappropriate to criticize the president while he’s abroad.
“First of all, when the president is overseas he represents all Americans, so I’m not going to be partisan in any way,” he said.
The White House sees the Obama visit as an opportunity for the president to mend ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a rocky relationship during his first term.
Obama has sought to reassure Israeli leaders that he is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and also reach out to the Israeli public to lay the groundwork for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.
“I think his meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu were very positive – in fact I got the impression yesterday that he pretty much just told Netanyahu that he does have the right to take independent action on Iran,” King said.
“As far as today, the statement he made, I thought it was very significant. He did single out Hamas, he also said that the process has to go forward and that everything can’t be resolved, otherwise there’s no point in having the negotiations if everything has to be resolved beforehand. So I think he’s laying the groundwork,” he added.
Republicans have been sharply critical of Obama for not visiting Israel during his first term.
“I probably would’ve wished he’d done it a little earlier but the fact is that’s done,” King said. “I think so far it’s been a very successful trip, and hopefully Secretary of State Kerry will be able to move it forward now.”
This story was updated at 1:55 p.m.