Israel’s prime minister said today his country could not return to the borders it held before the 1967 Six Day War.
Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his assertion that such lines were “indefensible” in a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.
Mr Netanyahu has declared the lines indefensible several times since US president Barack Obama said last week that future border negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the 1967 lines.
But Mr Obama also said those lines could be adjusted to accommodate mutually-agreed land swaps.
Mr Netanyahu also wished the Palestinian prime minister a speedy recovery after he suffered a heart attack while visiting the US.
Salam Fayyad, a heavy smoker, was in Texas to attend the college graduation of his son when he felt strong chest pains on Sunday. He was catheterised to open a blocked coronary artery.
Mr Netanyahu's speech at the gala dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee drew roaring cheers and standing ovations, a sign of the powerful backing he enjoys in the US as the Obama administration pressures him to do more to renew stalled Middle East peacemaking.
The warm reception contrasted sharply with the contentious quality of some of his recent exchanges with President Obama precisely over border issues.
His planned address later today to a joint meeting of the US Congress, where Israel enjoys strong bi-partisan backing, could similarly remind Mr Obama, ahead of the 2012 presidential race, of the political price he might pay if he tries to push Mr Netanyahu too hard.
In the speech, Mr Netanyahu said he would “outline a vision for a secure Israeli-Palestinian peace”.
But in language that suggested he was not going to take a conciliatory pose, he promised to “speak the unvarnished truth”.
“This conflict has raged for 100 years because the Palestinians refuse to end it. They refuse to accept a Jewish state,” he said.
A peace agreement, he said, must assure Israel’s security.
“Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 borders,” he declared.
The border issue took prominence last week when Mr Obama, in a major Middle East policy speech, took the position that any negotiations on final borders of the Jewish and Palestinian states must be based on the boundaries existing before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – lands the Palestinians claim for their hoped-for state.
In direct statements and through aides, Mr Netanyahu suggested that Mr Obama did not understand Israel’s security needs or the realities of the conflict-riven region.
Mr Obama said clearly in his policy speech and in his own address to AIPAC on Sunday that the territorial markers could be adjusted through mutually agreed land swaps – a principle accepted by the Palestinians that would allow Israel to retain major settlement blocs and assure its security.
But Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly sidelined this part of the Obama message.
In a sign of the sympathy Mr Netanyahu can hope to enjoy when he speaks to Congress today, a key Obama political ally, Senate majority Leader Harry Reid, challenged the president on the border issue at the AIPAC dinner.
“No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else,” Senator Reid said.
The reference to building alluded to earlier US demands that Israel renew an expired moratorium on settlement construction in lands claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.
Peacemaking with the Palestinians stalled in late 2008, shortly before Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu took office.
Mr Obama had hoped to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table and wrest a deal by September 2011. But those efforts foundered after Israel refused to extend a settlement construction slowdown and Palestinians abandoned negotiations after three short weeks, saying continued Israeli building on land they want for a future state did not show good faith.
Now the Palestinians are refocusing their strategy on trying to obtain a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations when the General Assembly meets in September.