Indicating no progress toward peace, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat alongside President Barack Obama on Friday and declared that Israel would not withdraw to 1967 borders to help make way for an adjacent Palestinian state. Obama had called
WASHINGTON (AP) — Indicating no progress toward peace, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat alongside President Barack Obama on Friday and declared that Israel would not withdraw to 1967 borders to help make way for an adjacent Palestinian state. Obama had called on Israel to be willing to do just that a day earlier.
The Israeli leader said he would make some concessions but Israel would not go back to the lines from decades earlier because they would be "indefensible."
For his part, Obama said that there were differences of formulations and language but that such disputes are going to happen "between friends."
The president never mentioned the 1967 borders as the two men talked with reporters. The leaders spoke after a lengthy meeting in the Oval Office, amid tense times.
Obama said in his speech on Thursday that the United States supports creation of a Palestinian state based on the border lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel forces occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza — along with mutually agreed-to land swaps that could accommodate existing Israeli settlements. The comment on 1967 borders drew angry criticism in Israel, and Netanyahu made clear after meeting with Obama that the idea was unacceptable.
"We cannot go back to those indefensible lines," said Netanyahu. The prime minister made no mention of Obama’s stipulation that there would be land swaps — an omission that seemed to present Obama’s proposal as more onerous.
Both Obama and Netanyahu said they shared a desire to get to peace and downplayed disagreements. "We may have differences here and there," Netanyahu said.
But there was no sign of resolution of the many barriers that stand between Israel and the Palestinians, more now than last September when Obama brought the two parties together to call for a peace deal within a year — a deadline that now looks unattainable.
Netanyahu said his nation could not negotiate with a newly constituted Palestinian unity government that includes the radical Hamas movement, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. He said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had to choose between continuing the deal with Hamas and making peace with Israel.
Obama agreed that Hamas "is not a partner for a significant realistic peace process" and said Palestinians would have to resolve that issue among themselves.
Yet both Obama and Netanyahu emphasized a need to make some kind of progress, against all obstacles, as changes sweep the Arab world.
"History will not give the Jewish people another chance," Netanyahu said.
Another major stumbling block is how to resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians demands a "right of return" of large numbers of refugees and descendants to Israel, but Israeli leaders say this would dilute the Jewish presence in Israel so that it would no longer be the Jewish state that Netanyahu demands and Obama supports.
"That’s not going to happen," Netanyahu said. He said Palestinians need to recognize that, and also said that Israel would not budge on its need for troops on the border with Jordan.
Palestinians reacted angrily.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s comments were tantamount to a "total rejection of the Obama vision and speech."
"Without Mr. Netanyahu committing to two states on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, he is not a partner to the peace process, and, I think, when President Obama gave him a choice between dictation and negotiations, he chose dictation, and when he gave him a choice between settlements and peace, he chose settlements."
"I don’t think we can talk about a peace process with a man who says the 1967 lines are an illusion," Erekat said.
Indeed, the comments from Netanyahu and Obama, after a longer-than-scheduled meeting that lasted over an hour-and-a-half, sounded more like a recitation of the many barriers to peace than an explanation of why there should be any reason for optimism.
The two leaders did not take questions from the press, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was unable in a subsequent briefing to point to any concrete signs of progress.
That left the way forward as cloudy as ever. Netanyahu is to address the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to press Israel’s position.
International pressure is growing on both Netanyahu and Obama to answer the demands of the Palestinian people as revolts sweeping the Arab world crest against Israel itself. Palestinian protesters marched on the Jewish state’s borders this week, and at least 15 people were killed.
Netanyahu was informed shortly before Obama’s speech of its contents by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to U.S. officials. Netanyahu sought in vain to get the border language removed from the speech, the officials said, and was incensed when he was told it was staying in. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic exchange.
Obama’s stance on the 1967 borders was not a major policy change, since the U.S — along with the international community and even past Israeli governments — previously had agreed to building on the 1967 lines.
But it was the first time he’d explicitly endorsed those borders as a starting point, while also embracing land swaps, and was viewed by Israelis as a concession to Palestinian demands.
In the face of Israeli anger, Carney argued Friday that Obama’s articulation of the 1967 borders didn’t amount to a new position.
Obama Thursday repudiated the Palestinians’ pursuit of unilateral statehood through the United Nations, but it was unclear whether his statement on the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations would be sufficient to persuade the Palestinians to drop their quest for U.N. recognition.
Associated Press writers Ben Feller and Matt Lee in Washington, Amy Teibel traveling with Netanyahu, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)