Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat alongside President Obama in the Oval Office Friday and flat-out rejected any attempt to convince Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders to allow for an adjacent Palestinian state, a move Obama had suggested in a major speech just the day before.
In lengthy comments after their meeting, Netanyahu said he and Obama shared the same goal of establishing peace between Israel and Palestine, but there are some “realities” that must be dealt with first.
The 1967 borders are “indefensible,” Netanyahu argued, and Israel will not negotiate with Palestinian leaders backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization he calls the Israeli version of al Qaeda that is responsible for firing thousands of rockets on Israel, most recently killing a 16-year-old boy on a school bus. He also suggested that the U.S. government does not understand the forces and complexities Israel faces.
Obama acknowledged there are sometimes disputes “between friends,” but said those differences were based on formulations and language alone.
In his speech on Thursday, Obama called for the creation of a Palestinian state based on boundaries that existed before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel forces occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The line was roundly criticized in Israel, and among Israel’s most loyal supporters in the U.S.
After Netanyahu’s bold comments in the Oval Office, Edward Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt said the body language between the two leaders suggested some tension. Walker also disputed the notion that Obama was calling for a hard-and-fast return to 1967 borders.
“I think it’s a shame” that this is getting misinterpreted, Walker said on MSNBC. “[Obama] never called for a return to the 1967 borders. He talked about the 1967 borders as the basis for talking … a starting point, not where we would wind up.”
Pummeled with questions about Netanyahu’s comments Friday afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the 1967 borders have been widely agreed to by all parties involved in the negotiations, as well as previous administrations, as the starting place for negotiations.
“There’s this crazy mischaracterization of what [the President] said here,” Carney said. “The borders should start from the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — on Friday strongly backed Obama’s vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“The Quartet agrees that moving forward on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues,” the group said in a statement.
“The members of the Quartet are in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” the group added.
Negotiations between Israel and Palestine fell apart after the Palestinian Authority pulled out over Israel’s refusal to put a stop to settlement activity in disputed territory. Subsequently, meetings of the Quartet in March and April were postponed.
“The Quartet reiterates its strong appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions,” the Quartet said.