|US President Barack Obama (R) meets with
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
© AFP Jim Watson
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told President Barack Obama Friday that Israel could not accept his call to return to its “indefensible” 1967 borders to forge peace with the Palestinians.
In a dramatic Oval Office appearance after two hours of talks, which ran considerably over time, Netanyahu warned that a “peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality.”
“The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts. I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities,” a grim-faced Netanyahu said.
“We don’t have a lot of margin for error, because Mr President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.”
Netanyahu said he would work with Obama to seek a secure peace for Israel, but also warned that Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas would have to choose between a new unity pact with the militant group Hamas or peace with Israel.
“I hope he makes the right choice,” said Netanyahu, after aides had said before the meeting that the United States did not understand the realities on the ground facing Israel at a moment of extraordinary instability.
Throughout the Israeli leader’s animated statement before the cameras, Obama watched Netanyahu impassively, from a nearby chair a few feet away, with his hand over his mouth.
Earlier, Obama had admitted that Israel and his administration had some “differences” over the way forward in the Middle East, and argued the “Arab spring” was both a moment of opportunity and peril for peacemaking.
He said that it was possible for the United States, the Palestinians and Israel to shape a deal allowing the Jewish state to secure its borders and not be vulnerable.
And he agreed with Netanyahu that “the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas.”
Obama had said on Thursday that territorial lines in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, combined with land-swaps, should be the basis for talks on a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has long opposed such a formulation, saying it would isolate major Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The prime minister arrived in Washington at dawn, with an aide saying his tough line was motivated by worries that Obama did not understand the threats Israel faces as popular revolts sweep the region.
“There is a feeling that Washington does not understand the reality. Washington does not understand what we face,” the senior Israeli official traveling with Netanyahu said.
|© AFP Jim Watson|
The Israeli leader appeared particularly anxious about the situation on his country’s borders, after thousands of Palestinians massed at frontiers on the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon and Syria on the weekend anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948.
Analysts said Obama became the first president to specifically state that the 1967 borders should be the basis for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, shut down over a settlements row last year.
US officials had, however, privately been pushing the position for a while and the principle was close to the shape of a failed deal advanced by former president Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000.
Netanyahu however is urging Obama to commit to assurances laid out in 2004 by then-president George W. Bush, who said “new realities on the ground,” meant a “full and complete return” to 1967 borders was “unrealistic.”
The New York Times reported late Thursday that Netanyahu had called US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to the speech to angrily demand that the language on the 1967 borders be dropped.
Palestinians have responded to the speech cautiously, with Abbas calling an urgent meeting of top advisers to discuss the way forward.
But despite laying down principles for a peace effort, Obama offered no new ideas on how to revive direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, which collapsed last year.
On Sunday, the president will address the powerful Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) before heading off on a week-long trip to Europe.
Netanyahu will also speak to AIPAC and will make a joint address to Congress next week, encouraged by Republican leaders who support his position.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license