From NBC's Athena Jones
NEW YORK -- The first trilateral meeting between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since the American president took office eight months ago began with a handshake of symbolic importance.
The leaders on both sides of the long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict grasped each other's hands after each shook hands with Obama.
The show of goodwill came after Obama announced that he had asked former Sen. George Mitchell, special envoy to the region, to meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators next week, had called on both leaders to send their negotiating teams back to Washington next week to continue these "intensive discussions" and had requested that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to him in mid- October on that status of negotiations.
"Simply put, it is past time talk about starting negotiations, it is time to move forward," he said. "It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals. Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon, more importantly we must give those negotiations the opportunity to succeed."
Peace has eluded the region for decades, even centuries, but successive U.S. presidents have sought to play an important role in trying to bring about a lasting end to the conflict. There have been varying degrees of progress, but no ultimate success.
"Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward," Obama said. "We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back. Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency."
As he reiterated America's commitment to a two-state solution, Obama said the Palestinians had made progress on security issues, but need to do more to stop incitement, that Israelis had facilitated greater freedom of movement for Palestinians and restraining settlements, but must transform words into action and that Arab states must promote peace.
The president met separately with each leader before bringing them together, along with top officials from each country, in this small room at the Waldorf Astoria.
The three leaders and top officials -- including Mitchell, Gen. James Jones, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Secretary Clinton -- were gathered around a U-shaped table, with two American flags, one Israeli flag and one Palestinian Authority flag in the background.