20 May 2011
In a major policy speech at the US State Department in Washington, DC, US President Barack Obama has given his view on the upheavals in the Arab world and outlined the US stance on the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Obama declared that the borders prior to the 1967 Six Day War should form the basis of a peace deal, with mutually agreed territorial swaps. His statement represented a subtle, but significant shift, in American policy. "The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine," Obama said. "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."
His reference to Israel’s borders came toward the end of a 45-minute address that sought to articulate an overarching framework for the disparate American responses to the Arab Spring, which has taken a dark turn as the euphoria of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt has given way to violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria, a civil war in Libya and political stalemate in Yemen. The president openly criticized Arab rulers and said his administration’s policy was to support the democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East.
Obama also rejected Palestinian attempts to seek recognition at the United Nations for a unilaterally declared State of Palestine in September. He said: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” Obama also criticized the Hamas-Fatah pact. He said the agreement raised “profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama's call for negotiations based on the 1967 lines by saying these lines were indefensible borders for Israel. Netanyahu – who is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Friday for talks with the US president and a speech before Congress – urged Obama to reaffirm commitments made by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, in 2004.
In a statement, Netanyahu declared: "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." The Israeli prime minister said he "expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US 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," the Prime Minister's Office said. "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."
In a 2004 letter to Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, Bush had stated: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Bush added that “it is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” Bush's letter also said that the solution to the Palestinian refugee would “need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”
"This is a radical shift in US policy toward Israel," Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, told the US news channel 'Fox News'. "Frankly, the 1967 lines are not defensible... Israel today is 45 miles wide. You put us back to the '67 lines, we are eight miles wide."
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