President Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" that he made the call for the U.S. to abstain from a vote on a U.N. Security councilresolution condemning Israeli settlements, allowing the resolution to pass, and that doing so didn't fray relations between the two countries.
The move caused a major fallout between the United States and Israel, a notion Obama demurred while speaking to Steve Kroft in an interview that aired Sunday.
"I don't think it caused a major rupture in relations between the United States and Israel. If you're saying that [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu got fired up, he's been fired up repeatedly during the course of my presidency, around the Iran deal and around our consistent objection to settlements. So that part of it wasn't new," Obama said in his final interview as president.
"And despite all the noise and hullabaloo, military cooperation, intelligence cooperation, all of that has continued," he said. "We have defended them consistently in every imaginable way. But I also believe that both for our national interests and Israel's national interests that allowing an ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that could get worse and worse over time is a problem. And that settlements contribute. They're not the sole reason for it, but they're a contributing factor to the inability to solve that problem."
Israelis have continued to settle on Palestinian property since peace talks first began in 1993. West Bank settlers then numbered 100,000. Today, they total around 400,000.
The increase of those settlements, Obama told "60 Minutes," has "gotten so substantial" that it is inhibiting the possibility for an "effective, contiguous Palestinian state.”
“Because of our investment in the region, and because we care so deeply about Israel, I think (the U.S.) has a legitimate interest in saying to a friend, 'This is a problem,'" Obama said. "It would have long-term consequences for peace and security in the region, and the United States."
The outgoing president reflected on his legacy and his biggest challenges during his eight years in office during the hourlong interview. A number of his policies — from health care to his contentious relationship with Israel — could be short-lived as President-elect Donald Trump becomes the 45th president later this week and vows to reverse some of those policies.
Trump has been vocal about his disapproval of many of Obama's policies, often voicing his disagreement or engaging in public disputes with the president on Twitter. Most recently, Trump lashed out over comments Obama made that he would have beaten Trump if they ran against each other in a general election.
Obama also reflected on his approach to the civil war in Syria, as it approaches its sixth year with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced around the world.
The president acknowledged that his "red line" declaration about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government wasn't in his 2012 speech and that he didn't have to use those words. They later prompted harsh criticism, since the U.S. did not follow through on the threat.
"I would have, I think, made a bigger mistake if I had said, 'Eh, chemical weapons. That doesn't really change my calculus,'" he said. "And regardless of how it ended up playing, I think, in the Beltway, what is true is Assad got rid of his chemical weapons."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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