Political Highlights May 20, 2011: President Obama & Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Meet & Disagree over Israel Borders

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS: OBAMA & NETANYAHU MEET

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office on Friday.

THE HEADLINES….

  • Divisions Are Clear as Obama and Netanyahu Discuss Peace: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told President Obama on Friday that he shared his vision for a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and then promptly listed a series of nonnegotiable conditions that have kept the two sides at an impasse for years.
    Sitting at Mr. Obama’s side in the Oval Office, leaning toward him and at times looking him directly in the eye, the Israeli leader bluntly rejected compromises of the sort Mr. Obama had outlined the day before in hopes of reviving a moribund peace process. Mr. Obama, who had sought to emphasize Israel’s concerns in his remarks moments earlier, stared back.
    In his public remarks, delivered after a meeting that lasted more than two hours, Mr. Netanyahu warned against “a peace based on illusions,” seemingly leaving the prospect for new talks as remote as they have been since the last significant American push for peace collapsed last fall. Officials said that the meeting was productive, but that there were no plans for formal negotiations or any mechanisms in place to push the two sides forward.
    Most significant among his public objections, Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel would not accept a return to the boundaries that existed before the war in 1967 gave it control of the West Bank and Gaza, calling them indefensible.
    “Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide; it’s half the width of the Washington Beltway,” Mr. Netanyahu said. He was referring to the narrowest point between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea, north of Tel Aviv, while displaying a well-honed familiarity with American cultural references to make his point for an American audience. “These were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars.”… – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Israeli leader rejects ’67 lines At a tense appearance with the president, Netanyahu rebuffed the idea, while Obama spoke of differences between friends: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday publicly lectured President Obama on the shortcomings of his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during a tense Oval Office appearance that laid bare the strained relations between the leaders.
    Admonishing a president of the United States on international television, Netanyahu rejected the plan outlined by Obama that would use the boundaries in effect before 1967 – more accurately, an armistice line set by the United Nations in 1949 after Israeli and Arab forces stopped fighting – as the starting point for negotiations, saying that doing so would risk Israel’s security and force it to negotiate with “a Palestinian version of al-Qaeda.”
    “The only peace that will endure is one based on reality, on unshakable facts,” Netanyahu said, leaning intently toward a grim Obama in the news appearance that followed an unexpectedly long, three-hour meeting.
    Obama acknowledged the chasm. “Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulation and language, and that’s going to happen between friends,” he said.
    The clash was remarkable even by the standards of frequently fractious ties between U.S. and Israeli leaders. Obama and Netanyahu sat, mostly stiff and unsmiling. It has contributed to worry among Israelis, who prefer that their leaders be on good terms with the Americans…. – PA Inquirer, 5-20-11
  • In meeting with Obama, Netanyahu rules out Israeli withdrawal to 1967 boundaries: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suggested Friday that President Obama holds an unrealistic view of how to achieve peace in the Middle East, saying that Israel would never pull back to the boundaries that the American president said a day earlier must be the basis for negotiations. The unusual Oval Office exchange, following a nearly two-hour meeting, laid bare the fundamental differences between Obama and the hawkish leader of the chief U.S. ally in the Middle East. Republicans on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, injected partisan politics into the debate by vowing to formally condemn Obama’s position toward Israel in a resolution next week…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • Talking, and Listening, in the Oval Office: When President Obama met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, in the Oval Office on Friday, this photo caught our eye. The two men have had a sometimes rocky relationship, (see today’s story by Helene Cooper) but they exchanged cordial words on Friday. This picture was snapped as Mr. Obama listened, almost frozen, during long remarks by Mr. Netanyahu, in which the Israeli leader pushed back against the framework for a peace deal that Mr. Obama outlined in a speech Thursday at the State Department. It made us wonder: What is Mr. Obama thinking?… – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Israel ‘Cannot Go Back to the 1967 Lines,’ Netanyahu Tells Obama: Before the meeting, Mr. Netanyahu’s aides told reporters that Mr. Obama failed to understand “the reality” of Israel’s situation and suggested that the American president was harboring some “delusions.” Speaking to the press as Mr. Obama sat by his side, Mr. Netanyahu echoed those sentiments, saying “a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality.”
    The Israeli prime minister then reiterated his strong objection to Mr. Obama’s statement, in his speech on Thursday, that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
    In his remarks on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu said: “While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the past 44 years.”… – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Israeli official: Washington does not understand what Israel faces: A senior Israeli official says President Barack Obama demonstrated in his latest Mideast policy speech that “Washington does not understand what we face.”
    The official says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was disappointed the speech did not address the Palestinian demand to repatriate to Israel millions of Palestinians, most descendants of people who were driven from or fled homes in the war over the Jewish state’s 1948 creation.
    Speaking Friday ahead of Netanyahu’s White House meeting with Obama, the official said, “There is a sense that Washington does not understand the reality, that Washington does not understand what we face.”
    Netanyahu arrived in Washington early Friday…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • Netanyahu to Confront Obama With ‘Reality,’ Israelis Say: Even as he flew to Washington for talks at the White House on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to signal his anger with President Obama’s statement on Thursday that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
    While it has been a central point of negotiations for years that Israel would swap at least some of the land it seized during the Six-Day War in 1967 for peace, Mr. Netanhayu was apparently disappointed that Mr. Obama had failed to mention specifically the idea that Israel should be allowed to redraw its borders to include the parts of the West Bank where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have settled since the land was occupied.
    In a written response to Mr. Obama’s speech on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu’s office suggested that the Obama administration should be bound by “U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004,” by President George W. Bush. In a letter to the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon that year, Mr. Bush had called a return to the borders of 1967 “unrealistic,” given “already existing major Israeli populations centers” on the West Bank…. – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Netanyahu brings starkly different vision to Obama’s White House: While President Obama has voiced support for pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East, the instability has made Israel’s Netanyahu wary of making concessions for peace.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a US visit today at the White House, bringing with him a fundamentally different vision of the Middle East than the one presented by President Barack Obama in a major policy speech yesterday.
    As Mr. Obama encourages democratic reforms across the Arab world, he meets the leader of a nation deeply wary about the regional instability wrought by six months of Arab uprisings. Israeli officials emphasize that the rising influence of political Islam and efforts by Iran to expand its footprint in the region make concessions for peace riskier than ever.
    “If we warned before, our concerns have been reinforced,’’ says Zalman Shoval, a Netanyahu aide. “While we hope that this will lead to democratization, there’s no guarantee…. Nobody really knows the answers.”… – CS Monitor, 5-20-11
  • Damage control on the Middle East speech: President Obama blew it yesterday. The Israelis are infuriated, numerous sharp-eyed lawmakers spotted the forced concessions Obama was demanding of Israel and, if former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block is any indication, the most prominent pro-Israel Jewish group is very, very worried. So what does Obama do? He reverses course — fast!
    On the BBC last night, Obama immediately nixed his definitive language on the 1967 borders and reverted to language that sounded more in tune with that of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush:To the BBC, the president said, “The basis for negotiations will involve looking at that 1967 border, recognizing that conditions on the ground have changed and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides. That’s on the one hand and on the other hand, and this was an equally important part of the speech, Israel is going to have to feel confident about its security on the West Bank and that security element is going to be important to the Israelis.”
    The president said that the Israelis “will not be able to move forward unless they feel that they themselves can defend their territory particularly given what they have seen happen in Gaza and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah.”
    That is as sure a sign as any that the speech was an overstep, and a misstep, that the Israelis are infuriated and that Obama is now in a pinch…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • Obama’s Peace Tack Contrasts With Key Aide, Friend of Israel: Five days ago, during a closed-door meeting with a group of Middle East experts, administration officials, and journalists, King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians.
    Dennis B. Ross, right, with Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997. Mr. Ross has served as a Middle East envoy for several presidents….
    By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town.
    His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.
    But now, as the president is embarking on a course that, once again, puts him at odds with Israel’s conservative prime minister, the question is how much of a split the president is willing to make not only with the Israeli leader, but with his own hand-picked Middle East adviser…. – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Obama’s Take on the Middle East The U.S. President says he believes in a separate Palestinian state: In an unprecedented speech on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressly conveyed the long held yet rarely stated U.S. policy that the borders of a future Palestinian state should reflect those prior to the 1967 Middle East conflict….
    Reaction to the speech has been mixed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have initially rejected the parameters of the speech. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas apparently called an “urgent meeting” of Palestinian leaders.
    Obama stated that a fundamental shift in U.S. policy must transpire, lest the divide with the Arab world grow ever more expansive.
    “A failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world,” Obama said. – Shalom Life, 5-20-11
  • AIPAC: Don’t Boo Obama!: AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg has sent an e-mail to delegates not to boo President Barack Obama during his speech to the AIPAC annual policy conference on Sunday. “We ask that you act and react to every speech, address, and briefing, that will be offered as part of the conference program in only the most positive manner,” Rosenberg wrote.
    Rosenberg’s e-mail is clearly targeted at responses to Obama’s speech, as there is no concern that the AIPAC delegates will heckle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or other Israeli speakers.aipac obama lee rosenberg
    While top US administration officials (usually the president or vice president) always reiterate the US’s commitment to Israel’s security, calls for talks with the Palestinians, or to show flexibility, are liable to inflame some delegates. Whistles and boos, or alternatively a thunderous silence or weak handclapping, have been heard in past appearances.
    AIPAC’s leadership wants to avoid such spontaneous protests during Obama’s speech, especially now, when no one knows what his message will be. As far as AIPAC is concerned booing the President would be a public relations disaster…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11
  • Israel rejects pre-’67 lines as condition for peace Prime minister warns President Barack Obama old borders indefensible: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told President Barack Obama on Friday that he shared his vision for a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and then promptly listed a series of nonnegotiable conditions that have kept the two sides at an impasse for years.
    Sitting at Obama’s side in the Oval Office, the Israeli leader rejected compromises of the sort Obama had outlined the day before in hopes of reviving a moribund peace process.
    Obama, who had sought to emphasize Israel’s concerns in his remarks moments earlier, stared back.
    In his public remarks, delivered after a meeting that lasted more than two hours, Netanyahu warned against “a peace based on illusions,” seemingly leaving the prospect for new talks as remote as they have been since the last significant U.S. push for peace collapsed last fall. Officials said that the meeting was productive, but that there were no plans for formal negotiations or any mechanisms in place to push the two sides forward.
    Most significant among his public objections, Netanyahu said that Israel would not accept a return to the boundaries that existed before the war in 1967 gave it control of the West Bank and Gaza, calling them indefensible…. – Albany Times-Union, 5-20-11
  • Next Israel-US Crisis Brewing in Jerusalem: The next diplomatic crisis between the US and Israel has arrived. On the eve of his departure for Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved discussion of construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.
    Several hours ahead of President Barack Obama’s policy speech on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and a couple of hours before Netanyahu himself flies to the US for a meeting with Obama on Friday, the Ministry of Interior regional planning and building committee will discuss the construction of 1,550 housing units in Har Homa in southeast Jerusalem and Pisgat Ze’ev in northeast Jerusalem, both neighborhoods over the 1967 “Green Line.”
    Discussion on these plans have already been postponed several times, and the cabinet secretary has now finally approved them at an especially sensitive moment…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11
  • Obama Elaborates on Call for 67 Borders: President Obama has elaborated upon his call for the 1967 lines to serve as the basis for a Palestinian state’s border in an interview with the BBC.obama sitting
    “The basis for negotiations will involve looking at that 1967 border, recognizing that conditions on the ground have changed and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides,” Obama told the BBC Thursday in an interview following his Middle East policy speech.
    “Israel is going to have to feel confident about its security on the West Bank, and that security element is going to be important to the Israelis,” Obama added. “They will not be able to move forward unless they feel that they themselves can defend their territory, particularly given what they’ve seen happen in Gaza and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah.”
    In his speech, Obama had said that the borders of a Palestinian state “should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded with a statement calling the 1967 lines “indefensible” for Israel…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11

QUOTES

President Barack Obama Meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office, May 20, 2011. (by Pete Souza)

  • President Obama Hosts Prime Minister Netanyahu: “An Extremely Constructive Discussion”: A day after the President’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa, where he spoke on the changes sweeping the region as well as the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the President hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel for a lengthy meeting. Afterwards they both spoke to the press in the Oval Office, and the President described their discussion as focusing on the same themes as his speech, including support for reforms in countries throughout the region…. – WH, 5-20-11Transcript
  • Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu Following Their Meeting at the White House: THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 1:56 P.M. EDT, FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me first of all welcome once again Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, I think, has — has now been here seven times during the course of my presidency. And I want to indicate that the frequency of these meetings is an indication of the extraordinary bond between our two countries, as is the opportunity for the prime minister to address Congress during his visit here. I know that’s — that’s an honor that’s reserved for those who have always shown themselves to be a great friend of the United States and — and is indicative of the friendship between our countries.
    We just completed a prolonged and extremely useful conversation, touching on a wide range of issues. We discussed first of all the changes that are sweeping the region and what has been happening in places like Egypt and Syria and how they affect the interests and security of the United States and Israel, as well as the opportunity for prosperity, growth and development in the Arab world.
    We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring, but also acknowledged that there are significant perils as well and that it’s going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold. I outlined for the prime minister some of the issues that I discussed in my speech yesterday, how important it was going to be for the United States to support political reform, support human rights, support freedom of speech, religious tolerance and economic development, particularly in Egypt as the largest Arab country; as well as Tunisia, the country that first started this revolutionary movement that’s taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
    We also discussed the situation in Syria, which is obviously of acute concern to Israel, given its shared border. And I gave more details to the prime minister about the significant steps that we are taking to try to pressure Syria and the Assad regime to reform, including the sanctions that we placed directly on President Assad.
    We continued to share our deep concerns about Iran, not only the threat that it poses to Israel but also the threat that it poses to the region and the world if it were to develop a nuclear weapon. We updated our strategy to continue to apply pressure, both through sanctions and our other diplomatic work. And I reiterated my belief that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. We also discussed the hypocrisy of Iran, suggesting that it somehow supports democratization in the Middle East when in fact they first showed the repressive nature of that regime when they responded to (the ?) own peaceful protests that took place inside Iran almost two years ago.
    Finally, we discussed the issue of a prospective peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
    And I reiterated and we discussed in depth the principles that I laid out yesterday, the belief that our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.
    Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends.
    But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats and that Israel’s security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal. I said that yesterday in the speech, and I continue to believe it. And I think that it is possible for us to shape a deal that allows Israel to secure itself, not to be vulnerable, but also allows it to resolve what has obviously been a wrenching issue for both peoples for decades now.
    I also pointed out, as I said in the speech yesterday, that it is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses acknowledge its right to exist. And so that — for that reason, I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas.
    Hamas has been, and is, an organization that has resorted to terror, that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s rights to exist. It is — it is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process. And so, as I said yesterday during the speech, the Palestinians are going to have to explain how they can credibly engage in serious peace negotiations in the absence of observing the Quartet principles that have been put forward previously.
    So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion. And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue, and that together, hopefully, we are going to be able to work to usher in a new period of peace and prosperity in a region that is going to be going through some very profound transformations in the coming weeks, months and years.
    So, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. Great to see you.
    PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.
    PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.
    Well, Mr. President — and first, I want to thank you and the first lady for the gracious hospitality that you’ve shown me, my wife and our entire delegation. We have an enduring bond of friendship between our two countries. And I appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting with you after your important speech yesterday.
    We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East. I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now and in our conversation, and in actual deed, the commitment to Israel’s security. We value your efforts to advance the peace process.
    This is something that we want to have accomplished. Israel wants peace. I want peace. What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure. And I think that the — we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only — the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts.
    I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of 9 miles wide — half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive from them.
    So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.
    I discussed this with the president. I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.
    The second is — echoes something the president just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas. Hamas, as the president said, is a terrorist organization, committed to Israel’s destruction. It’s fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children. It’s recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a — at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy.
    And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden. So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaida.
    I think President Abbas has a simple choice. He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel. And I — I can only express what I said to you just now: that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, of choosing peace with Israel.
    But a third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state but certainly not in the borders of Israel. The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems, Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.
    Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel: accept the grandchildren, really, and the great-grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state.
    So that’s not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly, it’s not going to happen.
    The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved. And it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in Palestinian state. That’s a real possibility. But it’s not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.
    The president and I discussed all of these issues, and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there is an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, a peace that is defensible.
    Mr. President, you are the — you are the leader of a great people, the American people. And I am the leader of a much smaller people. The –
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: A great people.
    PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: It’s a great people too. It’s the ancient nation of Israel. And you know, we’ve been around for almost 4,000 years. We have experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions.
    But I can say that even at the dearth of — even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel. And now it falls on my shoulders as the prime minister of Israel at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival.
    I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error and because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.
    So, in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors and give a better future for Israel and for the entire region. And I thank you for the opportunity to exchange our views and to work together for this common end.
    Thank you, Mr. President.
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. – Israel Embassy, 5-21-11
  • Pro-Israel push for magic words from Obama: Josh Block, the former AIPAC spokesman and a pro-Israel stalwart now at the Progressive Policy Institute, this morning emailed over quotes from several pro-Israel Democratic legislators unhappy with the White House move to formally embrace the 1967 lines around Israel as the basis for future negotiation.
    He also suggested language with which Obama could “make clear” something that, unless you’re very close to the page, already seemed fairly clear: That he’s not proposing withdrawal to the ’67 lines.
    The language Block suggests: Everyone understands the lines as they were in 1949/1967 are not defensible, and no one can expect Israel to accept them as final borders, but they can form the basis for negotiation, as they have in the past. As I have said, changes must be mutually agreed, and swaps should compensate for territory exchanged…. – AP, 5-21-11
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, The Prime Minister of Israel: PMO Announcement following President Obama’s speech: Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.
    That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress.
    Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.
    Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel.
    Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace.
    Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel.
    Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.
    Prime Minister Netanyahu will also express his disappointment over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas, a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as over Mahmoud Abbas’s recently expressed views which grossly distort history and make clear that Abbas seeks a Palestinian state in order to continue the conflict with Israel rather than end it. – PM Israel, Facebook, 5-20-11
  • Eric Cantor: The President needs to join the bipartisan majority in Congress and say that the United States’ security in the region goes hand in hand with Israel’s, and that our country is going to stand with our democratic ally.
  • Joseph Lieberman: Unfortunately, President Obama’s important and constructive speech embracing and supporting the peaceful, democratic revolutions in the Arab world was also undermined by an unhelpful and surprising set of remarks about Israel and the Palestinians that will not advance the peace process and in fact is likely to set it back.
    While the President made some strong statements about the “unshakeable” support for Israel’s security and rightly criticized the Palestinian pursuit of a symbolic statehood declaration at the UN in September, his unilateral call for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps — the first time any president has adopted this position — was profoundly ill-advised. As in the case of the President’s counterproductive demand for a settlement freeze two years ago, unilateral statements of this sort do nothing to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table and in fact make it harder for them to do so. They also damage the relationship of trust that is critical to peacemaking.
    In particular, the President’s remarks have revived and exacerbated fears in Israel about the commitment and understanding of this Administration with regard to their unique security situation. The fact is, while the exciting and hopeful new reality in the Arab world is the Arab spring, the newest reality in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not hopeful. It is the threatening new unity government between the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, a group which the U.S. government has long designated as terrorist because it is committed to violence and the destruction of Israel.
    In the days ahead, I hope President Obama will make clear Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas unity government until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions. I also hope that the President will make clear that his Administration recognizes the 1967 borders themselves are no longer an acceptable endpoint for negotiations because they do not allow Israel to defend itself, and that any peace agreement must reflect new realities on the ground, including the major new Israeli communities that have grown up since 1967, and the need for an extended presence by the IDF in the Jordan River Valley.
    In the past few months, the forces of freedom and self-determination have begun to move inexorably through the region. It is in that movement where we can find the greatest hope for peace between neighbors in the region, including Israelis and Palestinians. Full Statement
  • Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Statement: “I commend President Obama for reiterating to the entire world — including the 22 Arab countries that surround Israel — that the United States has an unshakable commitment to the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel. I agree with the President that the United Nations is not the place to negotiate the final parameters of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and that Israel should not be forced to talk with parties, such as Hamas, that don’t recognize its right to exist and seek to drive it into the sea. A two-state solution agreed upon by the Israelis and Palestinians should be negotiated through direct talks, but it is important to remember that a full return to the 1967 borders will be indefensible for Israel and that talking with terrorists who want to destroy Israel is a non-starter.”
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.): First, I am unclear as to why the President did not recount the three conditions of the Quartet, comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, for dealing with Hamas. (1) Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, (2) Hamas must renounce terrorism, and (3) Hamas must commit to all of the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. Those conditions, laid down in 2006, establish the foundation of our policy toward Hamas and must not be disregarded or glossed over. Further, we cannot expect Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority which has Hamas, a terrorist organization, as a working partner until Hamas accepts these conditions.
    Second, the 1967 armistice lines were simply not defensible, and Israel must not be made to return to them. Moreover, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which forms the basis of any future peace between Israelis and Palestinians, does not require Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines in exchange for peace. The President is correct that land swaps built into a peace agreement could make Israel’s borders safe and secure, but make no mistake about it – such territorial adjustments would be very significant so that Israel would no longer be 9 miles wide at its narrowest point.
    The reason that there has been no progress toward a peace agreement is that the Palestinians have refused to sit down with Israel and have used every excuse under the sun to refuse to negotiate. President Abbas, with all his talk of moderation, has been anything but. It is time to tell the Palestinians that the only way to statehood is through negotiations at the bargaining table, not through unilateral actions.
    The President still has the opportunity to elaborate on these points when he speaks on Sunday about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and I, for one, will listen carefully to what he has to say.” Full Statement
  • Florida Republican Allen West also blasted Obama’s speech in a statement he released and which was quoted by Newsmax: “Today’s endorsement by President Barack Obama of the creation of a Hamas-led Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, signals the most egregious foreign policy decision his administration has made to date, and could be the beginning of the end as we know it for the Jewish state,” said West.
    “The pre-1967 borders endorsed by President Obama would deny millions of the world’s Jews access to their holiest site and force Israel to return the strategically important Golan Heights to Syria, a known state-sponsor of terrorism,” he added and emphasized that “there has always been a Nation of Israel and Jerusalem has been and must always be recognized as its rightful capital.”
    West also said that “the Hamas-run Palestinian state envisioned by President Obama would be devastating to Israel and the world’s 13.3 million Jews. It would be a Pavlovian style reward to a declared Islamic terrorist organization, and an unacceptable policy initiative.” He called for the United States to “never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority- which has aligned itself with Hamas.” – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11
  • Mitt Romney: “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” Former Massachusetts governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a statement quoted on Politico.com. “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”
  • Michele Bachmann: Minnesota House member Michele Bachmann also responded to the presidential speech, saying on her Twitter account that Obama had “betrayed our friend and ally Israel. Obama’s call for 1967 borders will cause chaos, division & more aggression in Middle East and put Israel at further risk.”
  • Tim Pawlenty: Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, also a potential Republican candidate for the presidency, called Obama’s call for Israel return to the so-called ’1967 borders’ – the 1949 Armistice Lines which are considered indefensible by defense experts – “a mistaken a very dangerous demand.”
    In a statement quoted in Politico, Pawlenty said that “the city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided. To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen. At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it’s never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem.” – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Dore Gold: Israel’s 1967 Borders Aren’t Defensible: Fair observers have never considered the old armistice line as a non-negotiable starting point for peace talks.
    It’s no secret that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to lobby the U.N. General Assembly this September for a resolution that will predetermine the results of any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on borders. He made clear in a New York Times op-ed this week that he will insist that member states recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 lines, meaning Israel’s boundaries before the Six Day War.
    Unfortunately, even President Barack Obama appears to have been influenced by this thinking. He asserted in a speech Thursday that Israel’s future borders with a Palestinian state “should be based on the 1967 lines,” a position he tried to offset by offering “mutually agreed land swaps.” Mr. Abbas has said many times that any land swaps would be minuscule.
    Remember that before the Six Day War, those lines in the West Bank only demarcated where five Arab armies were halted in their invasion of the nascent state of Israel 19 years earlier. Legally, they formed only an armistice line, not a recognized international border. No Palestinian state ever existed that could have claimed these prewar lines. Jordan occupied the West Bank after the Arab invasion, but its claim to sovereignty was not recognized by any U.N. members except Pakistan and the U.K. As Jordan’s U.N. ambassador said before the war, the old armistice lines “did not fix boundaries.” Thus the central thrust of Arab-Israeli diplomacy for more than 40 years was that Israel must negotiate an agreed border with its Arab neighbors.
    The cornerstone of all postwar diplomacy was U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed in November 1967. It did not demand that Israel pull back completely to the pre-1967 lines. Its withdrawal clause only called on Israel to withdraw “from territories,” not from all territories. Britain’s foreign secretary at the time, George Brown, later underlined the distinction: “The proposal said ‘Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied,’ and not from ‘the’ territories, which means that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories.”
    Prior to the Six Day War, Jerusalem had been sliced in two, and the Jewish people were denied access to the Old City and its holy sites. Jerusalem’s Christian population also faced limitations. As America’s ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, would explain, Resolution 242 did not preclude Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem. In fact, Resolution 242 became the only agreed basis of all Arab-Israeli peace agreements, from the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace to the 1993 Oslo Agreements between Israel and the Palestinians…. – WSJ, 5-20-11
  • ‘Borders’ vs. ‘lines’: A distinction with meaning: Lines, borders, boundaries. Distinctions without a difference? Not legally, and certainly not in the Middle East, where President Obama’s prescription that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” of land to create “secure and recognized borders” for both states, triggered ire in supporters of Israel after many media outlets, paraphrasing Obama’s Thursday speech, used “lines” and “borders” interchangeably.
    “The so-called 1967 borders are not borders at all, just armistice lines,” said attorney John Smith, of Reed Smith, the Philadelphia firm with an international law group and eight overseas offices. Israel has “honest-to-goodness . . . bona fide borders” with Egypt and Jordan, which were created by treaties, Smith said. But its boundary with the West Bank, which Israel conquered after being attacked by Arab armies in 1967, is merely a tracing on military maps, not a demarcation with a border’s permanence and legal weight.
    The U.N. partition plan of 1947 called for a Jewish state of Israel, an Arab state, and international control over Jerusalem, said Paul Scham, a professor of Israeli studies at the University of Maryland, in College Park.
    “But fighting started shortly after the U.N. resolution,” Scham said. “Israel not only defended the areas that were to be Jewish, it expanded into areas that were supposed to be the Palestinian state. Then five Arab armies invaded in 1948, to support the Palestinians and grab territory for themselves. “At the end of the war, which Israelis call the War of Independence, Jordan held what we now call the West Bank, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. The armistice lines reflect where the armies were when the cease-fire happened” in 1949…. – PA Inquirer, 5-21-11
  • Obama’s speech: where’s the followup?: Days after President Obama’s big Middle East speech at the State Department, the Jewish left is caught between skepticism and hope, the right is on the warpath – and I suspect most American Jews are wondering what the fuss is all about.
    Yes, President Obama uttered the words “1967 borders” on Thursday along with “mutually agreed swaps,” all of which has been more or less U.S. policy for a long time even though that particular rhetorical formulation hasn’t been used.
    What both sides seem to be missing is that President Obama didn’t say a word about how he plans to follow up on his words. And I suspect that’s no accident…. – The NY Jewish Week, 5-21-11
  • Lowell Ponte: What Does Obama Gain by Snubbing Israel?: American politics underwent a tectonic shift this week, a change that apparently reflects a huge shift in political money and global power.
    Breaking with more than half a century of bipartisan U.S. policy on the Middle East, President Barack Obama appeared to turn against our longtime ally Israel.
    He called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be based on Israel retreating to its pre-1967 borders, a boundary to be altered only by “a few swaps” of land between the parties.
    To those of us who have stood near the old Syrian cannon emplacements on the Golan Heights looking down on the Galilee and Tiberius, or who have landed at Israel’s international airport within 3 miles of the pre-1967 border, or who understand that this would produce an indefensible Israel only 8 miles wide at its narrowest point, Obama’s proposal seems bizarre.
    As recently as 2005, President George W. Bush promised Israel, in exchange for new concessions, that the United States would not press Israel to return to the 1967 borders.
    This week President Obama broke that pledge by our government.
    Obama’s new pressure on Israel, he knows, will alienate many American Jews. Jews comprise only about 2 percent of America’s population, but this mostly-Democratic bloc turns out to vote, and 80 percent in 2008 voted for him…. – Newsmax, 5-20-11
  • The blowup with Israel: PRESIDENT OBAMA and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have a powerful and urgent common interest. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has turned his back on both Israel and the United States; he is seeking accommodation with the extremist Hamas movement and has announced that he will seek a declaration of Palestinian statehood from the U.N. General Assembly in September. The result could be what Mr. Netanyahu’s defense minister calls “a diplomatic tsunami” against Israel and possibly the eruption of another Israeli-Palestinian war. As for the United States, the U.N. vote could isolate it in support of Israel, undermine the ambitious strategy that Mr. Obama has just announced to promote democracy in the Arab world — and maybe derail the Arab Spring itself.
    Now, of all times, the Israeli and U.S. governments ought to be working closely together; they should be trying to defuse the U.N. threat, induce Mr. Abbas to change course, and above all prevent a resumption of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, Friday found Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu once again publicly and poisonously at odds with each other, thanks to a handful of lines added by Mr. Obama to his Middle East speech on Thursday. The president’s decision to publicly endorse terms for a peace settlement seemingly calculated to appeal to Mr. Abbas, over the strong objections of Mr. Netanyahu, has had the effect of distracting attention from the new U.S. agenda for the region…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • What’s really behind harsh GOP responses to Obama’s Middle East speech: How much of the Republican candidates’ harsh reaction to President Obama’s policy speech on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue was campaign strategy?…
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is trying to recover from a terrible campaign rollout week, called Obama’s speech a “disaster.” “I understand he has already in effect offered concessions to the Palestinians, in advance of anything the Israelis do, in a way that could be a significant security threat to the Israelis,” Mr. Gingrich told reporters following him in Iowa.
    Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who is best known for his strongly conservative views on social issues but has also given speeches devoted to foreign policy, also reacted harshly: “The current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies.”… – CS Monitor, 5-20-11
  • Israel’s 1967 borders: Three reasons Obama’s stance is a very big deal: In the subtle world of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Obama’s step – describing the 1967 borders as something more than a ‘Palestinian goal’ – could signal a significant policy shift…. – CS Monitor, 5-20-11
  • ANALYSIS Harman: Netanyahu Could ‘Be the Peacemaker Israel Has Been Seeking’: SUMMARY President Obama met Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after delivering a U.S. policy speech calling for a return to pre-1967 borders. Judy Woodruff discusses what comes next in the peace process with former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. – PBS Newshour, 5-20-11
  • ANALYSIS After Obama Speech, What’s Next for Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Relations?: SUMMARY In a speech Thursday, President Obama called for support of democratic reforms in the Arab world and steps toward peace in the Middle East. Jeffrey Brown discusses the president’s address and U.S. policy with reporter Mona Eltahawy, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and American University of Beirut’s Rami Khouri…. – PBS Newshour, 5-19-11
  • Sean Hannity: Reaction to Obama’s Israel Rhetoric Ranges From ‘Historic’ to ‘Shameful’: Special Guests: Michael Ghouse, author of “They Must Be Stopped” & president for Act for America, Brigitte Gabriel
    SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Now in a speech today President Obama may have radically altered U.S. foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but he completely failed to address all the other ongoing Mideast conflicts and what America should be doing about them.
    Take Libya for instance. Now, time has run out on the administration’s 60-day occupation limit as provided by the War Powers Resolution and now the White House must obtain Congressional approval for the war in Libya by tomorrow in order to continue deploying troops there. But there was noticeably no mention of this pressing situation or the impending deadline in today’s speech.
    Also missing was any reference to the disturbing fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely about to take over Egypt and with its strict interpretation of Sharia law put an end to things like freedom of speech, religious diversity, and gender equality.
    Joining me now with reaction is the President of the American Together Foundation — is Michael Ghouse and the author of “They Must Be Stopped,” the president for Act for America, Brigitte Gabriel…. – Fox News, 5-19-11
  • Dershowitz: Obama made ‘serious mistake’ (Video): BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Israeli advocate and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz says President Obama hurt the Middle East peace process by calling for 1967 borders as a starting point… – CNN, 5-20-11
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