By Kent Klein
President Barack Obama says lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be based on two states, with Israel in its 1967 borders. In a major speech on U.S. Mideast policy, the president prodded both sides to return to negotiations.
Obama has endorsed a key Palestinian demand that a Palestinian state should be based on borders as they existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.
“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the U.S. policy shift “indefensible.” Obama hosts the Israeli leader at the White House on Friday, in what is sure to be a contentious meeting.
The president is also scheduled to speak Sunday to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the nation’s largest pro-Israel lobbying organization.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking urgent consultations with Arab leaders regarding Obama’s address.
The president devoted the final portion of his 46-minute speech to the continuing failure to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been stalled since last September.
“Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them – not by the United States, not by anybody else. But endless delay will not make the problem go away.”
The president had blunt talk for both sides. He warned the Palestinians that what he called “efforts to delegitimize Israel” would end in failure. And Obama cautioned the status quo is unsustainable and Israel must also act boldly to advance the peace process.
He said that what he called “the wrenching and emotional issues of the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees” still wait to be resolved.
“But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The president also acknowledged the complication presented recently by the unification of the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The United States and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.
“How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.”
After the speech, Hamas accused Obama of deception and favoritism toward Israel.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, whose resignation takes effect Friday, was among those attending the president’s speech at the State Department.