WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said his call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines did not mean the future state of Palestine would have those exact borders.
“By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama said Sunday morning to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
Last week, Obama said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be based on the pre-’67 lines, with mutually agreed swaps. He also said that the difficult issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be deferred. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called such borders “indefensible.”
“If there is a controversy, it’s not based on substance,” Obama said Sunday. “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”
At AIPAC, the U.S. president did not address the refugee issue or Jerusalem. At a previous AIPAC conference, Obama had called for Jerusalem to remain the united capital of the Jewish state, though he backed away from that remark in a television interview shortly afterward.
In a panel discussion after the speech, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, now a vice president at the Brookings Institution, said Obama didn’t talk about Jerusalem because the AIPAC audience would not have been happy to hear what the president thinks about the city’s future.
In his speech Sunday, Obama said he told Netanyahu at their White House meeting two days earlier that “The march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations — will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative.”
Obama said he talked to Netanyahu about the demographic threat that Palestinian growth poses for Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state if it continues to hold onto the West Bank, about how technological advances are making it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of peace and about how the so-called Arab Spring makes it imperative to demonstrate to the Arab world that peace is possible.
“There is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations: They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process — or the absence of one,” the president said. “That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitals around the world. Those are the facts.
He added, “I believe the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination.”
Netanyahu, who watched Obama’s speech to AIPAC from the Blair House, where he is staying while in Washington, released a statement saying that “I would like to express my appreciation of President Obama’s speech before the AIPAC conference. I am a partner to President Obama’s wish to promote peace, and I appreciate his efforts in the past and present to achieve this goal. I am determined to work with President Obama to find ways to renew peace talks.”