Obama underscored the administration's position that the settlement moratorium should be extended, saying it "has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the administration's special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell have been meeting with officials from both sides and other interested parties this week in New York but seem to have made little headway.
Faced with the real possibility of the collapse of negotiations, Obama implored the international community to get behind the idea of peace and forget favoritism to one side or the other.
"Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine," he said. "And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means — including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel."
Obama urged the U.N. in its 60th year to look beyond past Middle East peace failures and get on with the task at hand.
"We can come back here, next year, as we have for the last 60, and make long speeches about it," he said. "We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate."
"Or we can say that this time will be different, that this time we will not let terror or turbulence or posturing or petty politics stand in the way."
Obama's speech came amid a three-day U.N.-dominated trip to New York, where the president was also to meet privately with the leaders of China, Japan, Colombia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. In addition, he was to host Southeast Asian leaders and attend a meeting aimed at preventing renewed civil war in Sudan.