Netanyahu to Obama: No return to 1967 lines
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office on Friday
May 20th, 2011
07:08 PM ET

Netanyahu to Obama: No return to 1967 lines

By CNN's Alan Silverleib

WASHINGTON (CNN) –Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday firmly rejected President Barack Obama's call for an approximate return to the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, telling the U.S. leader that such a move is impossible in light of current security concerns and demographic realities.

The two leaders pledged to work together, however, in the pursuit of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

"Israel wants peace. I want peace," Netanyahu said while meeting with Obama at the White House. But "a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality," he said.

"Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that's going to happen between friends," Obama said.

"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."

Both men stressed that the presence of the militant group Hamas in a Palestinian government would be extremely problematic for future peace talks. The United States and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas "hasto decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel," Netanyahu said. "I hope he makes the choice - the right choice - in choosing peace with Israel."

Obama's call Thursday for an approximate return to the 1967 borders, which made official a long-held but rarely stated U.S. position, has increased tension between the two longstanding allies at a moment of turbulent change in the Arab world.

Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 war. The Sinai has since been returned to Egypt. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move not recognized by the international community and condemned by Syria, which still claims the land.

Hamas now controls Gaza, while the more moderate Palestinian group Fatah administers the West Bank, site of a growing number of Israeli settlements. Ultimately, the Palestinians are aiming to unite Gaza and the West Bank under the authority of a new state.

The Israeli government has repeatedly said, among other things, that peace talks with the Palestinians cannot seriously proceed without firmer security guarantees and a clear recognition of the Jewish state's right to exist.

Obama said Thursday that the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state "should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

His position largely agreed with the Palestinian negotiating stance on border issues in the staggering peace process, now stalled by disputes over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the role of Hamas in the Palestinian leadership.

At the same time, Obama reiterated unwavering U.S. support for Israel's security Thursday, and he endorsed certain negotiating positions of Netanyahu's government, including an incremental handover of security responsibilities by Israel when conditions on the ground allow it.

He also said a future Palestinian state would have to remain "nonmilitarized."

Obama sought to undercut momentum for a declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in September, warning that "symbolic actions to isolate Israel (at the U.N.) won't create an independent state."

The president said he recognizes that two "wrenching and emotional issues" remain unresolved: the future status of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides, and the fate of Palestinian refugees who claim Israel as their homeland.

Netanyahu, considered hawkish on security matters, reacted coolly to the president's speech. He has argued that the 1967 borders are now "indefensible" for Israel, and noted that major population centers are located beyond those lines.

Hamas also rejected the terms outlined in the speech, calling them "empty of concrete significance."

Israel, meanwhile, announced the approval Thursday of new projects to build 1,500 housing units in Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev, which are outside the 1967 borders. The projects had previously received initial approval, said Roye Lackmanovich, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Israeli officials said before Friday's meeting that Netanyahu intended to use the occasion not only to stress his opposition to a restoration of the 1967 lines, but also to seek specifics on the type of security guarantees envisioned by the president, including the assertion that a Palestinian state would remain nonmilitarized.

Netanyahu also wanted Obama to clarify his stance on both Hamas and the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian families who left Israel after the state's founding in 1948. Israel has repeatedly warned that it cannot allow those families to return without sacrificing its identity as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu made clear after Friday's meeting that the families of the 1948 refugees cannot settle within Israel's borders.

While Netanyahu and other conservative members of the Israeli government have been critical of Obama in the wake of Thursday's speech, the president also has defenders within the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Tzipi Livni, an opposition leader and former foreign minister, applauded Obama's call for a two-state solution.

"An American president that supports a two-state solution represents the Israeli interest and is not anti-Israeli," Livni said. "President Obama's call to start negotiations represents Israel's interests."

Also, the group known as the Middle East Quartet - which includes the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States - issued a statement Friday offering its "strong support" for Obama's "vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace."

The White House has been heavily focused on Middle East issues this week. Obama met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday and will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group, on Sunday.

CNN's Elise Labott, Kevin Flower and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

Topics: Middle East • President Obama • The News

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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Liz Carter in Georgia

    All I do know is whatever they decide on this one is and always has been touchy-touchy for an American President! I believe one reason is we have many Jews here, who're American Citizens, and another one is since we claim to be a Christian-based nation, believing the gospel of the HOLY BIBLE, we've got to walk a thinline. It is written: GOD said... HE will bless those who bless ISRAEL, and curse those who curse ISRAEL. I was taught that in Sunday School; and my parents emphasized its grave importance to us.

    May 21, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  2. eunice

    Yes the bible does say that and G-d will judge Israel, Palastines and every one else. "touchy-touchy for an American President!" YES that's why we should not interfer.

    May 21, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  3. Jinraj Joshipura

    Impotence of American Presidents – All American Presidents from Senior Bush to Obama should confess that we “All the US Presidents” are impotent. As presidents we are supposed to preach high morals while exempting what Israel does. We the people of US, our congress, our senate and us (the Presidents) are controlled by handful of few people making us puppet of Israel and it is the ISRAEL that is the SUPERPOWER and we simply the stooges who die for them in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. American people are sheep and morons and as per Bill Mahler the most childish people in any country on earth. I forgot Europeans who are even more cowards than us because they tag along as poodles that speak different languages.

    May 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  4. Thinker23

    Only about 2% of Americans are Jews. The remaining 98% are not. Almost all Americans, however, prefer to deal with peaceful, smart and hard working Jews than with violent fanatic Islamists.

    May 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  5. Liz Carter in Georgia

    I'd rather deal with hardworking peaceful people period, whether they be Jews, Islamic or Christian. Their are certainly fanatics in every race, culture, creed, and religion. In this country, the so-called 'melting pot' of any and everything, fanatics abound! In other words, I've noticed that since OBAMA has been president, they have come out of the woodworks! Most Americans would rather deal with.....'? Well it seems to me, most of the violent fanaticism is coming out of that 98% you speak about!

    May 22, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Thinker23

      "Their are certainly fanatics in every race, culture, creed, and religion."

      But of course, Liz. It's a pity that you forgot to list all Jewish fanatic mass murderers who DELIBERATELY killed thousands of innocent civilians like the Arabs did on 9/11 in New York or in Bali or in Mumbai or in US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania or in thousands of attacks on Israeli schools, buses and shopping centers. This is what happens when FACTS contradict with your generalizations.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  6. Jay in NC

    Back to 1967? Why not roll back all the borders to 1967 level. Then we would need to put back the Berlin wall, divide Vietnam, and rejoin now independent nations to the Soviet Union. Why stop at 1967, let go back a couple of years more, maybe 1959. Hawaii would not even be a state. Wait a minute, I think I am beginning to like this idea.

    May 22, 2011 at 7:38 am |
    • Thinker23

      You're absolutely right, Jay. It is not possible to go back in time with borders or anything else. Anyone (including the President) dreaming about moving back in time will eventually wake up to the reality of today and will, hopefully, understand that the borders between Israel and the still non-existing Palestinian state will be determined the day a PEACE AGREEMENT successfully negotiated by both sides will be signed.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:49 am |