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Friday, May 20, 2011

Netanyahu tells Obama: Israel cannot go back to the 1967 borders

Reaction in Israel has varied to President Barack Obama's endorsement of the long-held but rarely stated U.S. support for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded coolly, saying that to use those borders as a basis for talks would leave Israel "indefensible" because major population centers are beyond those lines.
Not everyone in Israel agrees.
Tzipi Livni, an opposition leader and former foreign minister who leads the Kadima movement, criticized Netanyahu's resistance to Obama's vision for peace talks.
"An American president that supports a two-state solution represents the Israeli interest and is not anti-Israeli," Livni said. "President Obama's call to start negotiations represents Israel's interests."
In addition to saying "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines," Obama said peace talks could include "mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."
Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula in the 1967 war.
The U.S. president condemned Hamas for perpetrating terror against Israel, saying this not acceptable for the peace process. He said any deal must be based on Quartet guidelines.

Obama concluded that his meeting with Netanyahu was constructive, adding that American ties with Israel remain close and that he looks forward to a "new age of prosperity" in the coming weeks and years.

Netanyahu opened his statement reflecting on the "enduring bond of friendship" between Israel and the United States, adding that he was happy to meet with the U.S. President after hearing his speech on Middle East policy.

The prime minister said that Israel and the United States share the common goal of a democratic Middle East, thanking Obama for his commitment to Israel's security and the peace process.

Netanyahu said that he wants peace, but " a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure". He clarified that the only peace that will be durable is one that is based on reality as it stands.

The prime minister said that the Palestinians need to accept this, and that while Israel is willing to make compromises, it cannot return to the "indefensible" 1967 lines that do not take into account demographic changes that have taken place in the past decades.

Netanyahu stressed that 1967 borders would make Israel an easy target, and while 45 years ago it was possible to defend these borders, today it is not.

He echoed Obama's words of condemnation for Hamas, saying Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas and that does not recognize Israel. He recounted the terror that Hamas has perpetrated against Israel, reminding the public of the hit last month of an Israeli school bus.

Netanyahu called on the PA to choose between peace with Israel and its agreement with Hamas, adding that he hopes they will choose peace with Israel.

The prime minister addressed the issue of refugees, saying that 1948 created not only Palestinian, but Jewish refugees from Arab countries as well. He said that "tiny Israel" absorbed the Jewish refugees, both Jewish and Palestinian refugees, Israel took the Jewish refugees, roughly the same number as Palestinians, yet the "vast Arab world" refused to take in the Palestinian refugees.

He said that the expectation that Israel absorb Palestinian refugees 63 years later is unrealistic, saying that this would destroy Israel's demographic integrity as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu said that the Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved and that it can be resolved, but only "if the Palestinians choose to do so in Palestinian state."

Netanyahu also admitted that there were "differences here and there" but that Israel and the United States are committed to work together. He hailed Obama as the leader of great American people, and himself as the leader of a much smaller people that has endured centuries of persecution.
The outspoken deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, and Likud party member Danny Danon excoriated Obama for proposing borders along 1967 lines. He said in a statement that Obama had "adopted Yasser Arafat's infamous 'Stages Plan' and the hope to eventually remove the state of Israel from the map."
The Stages Plan refers to a Palestine Liberation Organization political document calling for a binational state that many in Israel believed was a ploy for staging further attacks against Israeli targets.
Einat Wilf, a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs Committee, sounded a far more conciliatory tone, however.
The Independence Party member said Obama's speech confirmed the principle "that Israel needs to be recognized by the Palestinians as the homeland of the Jewish people."
She also said it reaffirmed that the only way to achieve a Palestinian state is through direct negotiations with Israel, and she said it's particularly important that Obama mentioned that the Palestinians walked away from negotiations.
Opinions were varied in Israel's freewheeling media as well.
An editorial in the Jerusalem Post took note of Obama's reference to sensitive issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, writing "disturbingly, he did not specify that the Palestinian refugee problem must be solved within a new 'Palestine,' not in Israel."
Columnists Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer, writing in the pages of the mass circulation daily Yedioth Aronoth, argued that the focus on 1967 border lines was a "distraction."

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