By Ria Novosti
U.S. President Barack Obama stood in front of Washington’s biggest pro-Israeli lobby on Sunday and reiterated that peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the country’s pre-1967 borders.
Obama provoked strong criticism from Israel last Thursday when he called for land swaps from the starting point of the pre-1967 borders to be the basis of Palestinian statehood.
Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Obama in Washington on Friday, dismissed any return to the old boundaries, arguing that they are undefendable. In turn, the Palestinian Hamas movement condemned Obama’s speech, calling it openly pro-Israel.
Against the background of a stormy debate in the media, the U.S. president moved to clarify its position in Sunday’s speech at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination,” Obama told the delegates. “I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. So I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.”
Obama said Israel needed a peace treaty because of demographic pressure from the increasing number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River; because “technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace”; because democratic advances now mean peace must be forged with millions of Arabs, not just one or two leaders; and because the international community is increasingly impatient for peace.
He stressed that starting from the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps to agree secure and recognized borders for both states “means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”
The AIPAC members applauded this statement, and many others during the 25-minute speech, with cheers for his criticism of Hamas – “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction” – and call for its release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, “who has been kept from his family for five long years.”
Obama now departs for a five-day tour of Europe, where the issue – and that of Libya and the wider Arab uprisings – is expected to come up again.