Israel refuses Obama’s call for border retreat

SHOWING no progress toward peace, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat alongside President Barack Obama yesterday 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 US supports the 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. The comment drew angry criticism in Israel, and Netanyahu made clear after meeting with Obama that the idea was unacceptable.

Both leaders 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 a 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 recognise 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 emphasised 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 recognise that.

All in all, the comments from Netanyahu and Obama, after a longer-than-scheduled meeting that lasted over 90 minutes, 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 US Congress on Tuesday to press Israel’s position.


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