Obama to hold talks with Netanyahu

Obama to hold talks with Netanyahu

US President Barack Obama is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a day after challenging the Israeli leader to give up more territory than he wants to in pursuit of peace with the Palestinians.

That could make for a tense encounter when Netanyahu comes to the White House today.

In a speech on Thursday, Obama called for a Palestinian state next to Israel based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israeli forces occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Netanyahu said that would be "indefensible".

Obama wants Israel and the Palestinians to restart stalled peace talks and is certain to push Netanyahu on the issue. But numerous barriers stand in the way.

Netanyahu gave a cool reception to Obama's speech, warning that a withdrawal from the West Bank would leave Israel vulnerable to attack.

Obama endorsed the Palestinian position on the borders of their future state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to convene a meeting with senior officials as soon as possible to decide on the next steps, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is determined "to give President Obama's effort and that of the international community the chance they deserve", Erekat said.

The US, the international community and even past Israeli governments have endorsed a settlement based on the 1967 lines, but Obama was far more explicit than in the past.

Netanyahu rejected a full withdrawal from the West Bank, saying the 1967 lines were "indefensible" and would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel. Netanyahu rejects any pullout from east Jerusalem.

Behind the rhetoric, though, was the possibility of finding common ground. Obama said he would support agreed-upon territorial swaps between the Israel and the Palestinians, leaving the door open for Israel to retain major West Bank settlements, where the vast majority of its nearly 300,000 Jewish settlers live.

Netanyahu said he would urge Obama to endorse a 2004 American commitment, made by then President George W. Bush, to Israel. In a letter at the time, Bush said a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines was "unrealistic" and a future peace agreement would have to recognise "new realities on the ground".

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