Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says President Obama’s vision of the borders of a Palestinian state – part of his vision for a US-broked peace deal – would leave Israel “indefensible”.
The pair are now set for a tense meeting in Washington, after the Israeli Prime Minister hit back at the President’s comments – made on Thursday in a major speech on US policy in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama, in a speech in which he also said he saw reasons to be hopeful following the Arab spring uprisings across the region, outlined his clearest thoughts yet on the compromises Israel and Palestine would have to make for peace.
His position essentially embraced the Palestinian view that the state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza should be drawn along the lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured these territories and Jerusalem. It is a sign that the President expects concessions from Israel to achieve peace.
He suggested that “mutually agreed land swaps” could see these borders drawn up, saying the aim was: “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”
He also criticised continued Israeli “settlement activity”, but stopped short of introducing a formal US-brokered peace deal.
Obama added: “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever.”
But Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu said a Palestinian state drawn up on these lines would leave Israel “indefensible”.
In a statement, the Prime Minister said: “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence.”
The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
The disagreement comes ahead of talks in Washington later. Little was expected from the talks in terms of progress towards ending the decades-old conflict, but the prospect now looks even more unlikely.
The President did also have strong words for the Palestinians, saying efforts to “delegitimize” Israel “will end in failure.” He also reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel’s security.
But for many Republicans, the President was too hard on their closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.
Likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said: “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace.”