Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today rejected the key proposal in President Obama’s Thursday address on the Middle East, stating unequivocally that Israel will not return to the 1967 borders.
Netanyahu, in deeply personal remarks made in the Oval Office after the two leaders met, called the borders indefensible and said they had created the temptation for past attacks.
While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.
Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway.
While saying he planned to continue to try to find a peace deal, Netanyahu ruled out negotiating with Hamas and said the Palestinians could forget about the right of return, a key demand that would allow those who left after the 1948 war of Israeli independence to repopulate Israel and effectively end the Jewish character of the state.
Leaning forward as the two men sat in adjoining chairs, Netanyahu seemed to be almost pleading with a physically recoiling Obama to understand that Jewish history had passed the task of safeguarding his people onto him in his role as prime minister.
And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error. And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.
Obama in his remarks did not mention his proposal of yesterday to start negotiations with the assumption of a return to the 1967 borders. He sought to minimize differences that occurred during the 90 minutes of one on one meetings between the two leaders.
Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends. But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats, and that Israel’s security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal.
Ninety minutes of meetings between world leaders without the crutch of aides is a remarkable testament to the knowledge and confidence of both men. And if the two leaders didn’t know whether to like or dislike each other before, they know now. And judging by Obama’s body language during the session, it doesn’t seem like they suddenly became buddies.