At AIPAC conference, Obama clarifies 1967 border remarks

US President Barack Obama has told a gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington DC that his call last week for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines did not mean the future state of Palestine would have those exact borders. “By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on 4 June 1967,” Obama said in his speech to the the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides,” he emphasized.

Last week, Obama declared that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be based on the pre-1967 borders between Israel and what was then the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, with mutually agreed swaps. He proposed to first deal with territorial issues and to leave the questions of the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be deferred for later. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leadership of the World Jewish Congress called such borders "indefensible." Obama now said: “If there is a controversy, it’s not based on substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”

In a statement from the Prime Minister's Office released shortly after Obama concluded his address, which received applause from the thousands of AIPAC members in the hall, Netanyahu said: "I share the president's wish to promote peace and I appreciate his past and present efforts to achieve this goal. I am determined to work with President Obama in order to find ways to resume the peace negotiations. Peace is a vital necessity for us all." Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar also welcomed Obama's "clarification" about a possible Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 cease-fire lines, saying that the president's tone and phrasing at the AIPAC event - unlike during his speech at the State Department last Thursday - "were much more convenient, from our point of view." National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau lauded the speech as well: "I think the tone was excellent," he was quoted as saying by the ‘Ynet’ news site.

AIPAC issued a statement following the Obama speech expressing appreciation for his assurance that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the lines that existed on 4 June 1967 and his condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Through a spokesman, Hamas in Gaza condemned Obama's speech, saying it would not recognize Israel despite the US president's demand. The Obama administration was "not a friend to the people of the region," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the 'Ma'an' Palestinian news service.  He added that Obama's continued support of Israel showed that the US was biased "supports the occupation at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinian people." Abu Zuhri said: "The US administration will fail, just as all others have in the past, in forcing Hamas to recognize the occupation."

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