Obama rejects controversy over his stance on Middle East peace talks
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on May 22, 2011 in Washington, DC. President Obama spoke to AIPAC reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and calling for Israelis and Palestinians to seek a two-state solution. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)
May 22nd, 2011
05:02 PM ET

Obama rejects controversy over his stance on Middle East peace talks

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama said Sunday that any controversy over his remarks last week that Israel-Palestinian negotiations should start from pre-1967 borders and include land swaps was "not based in substance."

In his first speech as president to the main American-Israeli advocacy group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama sought to reassure the vital U.S. Jewish lobby of  his administration's commitment to Israel's security while also making clear his desire to kick-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a time when the entire Middle East landscape is changing amid the so-called Arab Spring demonstrations.

Obama acknowledged that he expected some controversy from his call last Thursday for negotiations to be based on border demarcations from before the six-day war of 1967, in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip and other territory.

However, he said, his policy on the border issue "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 eve of the war. Those negotiations will involve "mutually agreed-upon" land swaps to deal with changing conditions of recent decades, he said.

"That's what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation," Obama said to applause. "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.

His proposal contained "nothing particularly original," he said, adding that "this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations."

"If there is a controversy, then, it's not based in substance," Obama said.

The Thursday remarks drew a chilly response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who used a joint appearance with Obama on Friday to reject any possibility that Israel could return to its pre-1967 borders. Netanyahu said such borders would be "indefensible" and noted that major Israeli population centers now lie outside them.

On Sunday, a statement by Netanyahu responding to Obama's AIPAC speech was more conciliatory, saying: "I share the president's will to promote peace and I value his current and past efforts to achieve this goal."

"I am determined to act together with President Obama in order to find ways to resume the negotiations for peace," Netanyahu's statement said. "Peace is a vital need for all of us."

Maen Areikat, the chief Palestinian representative to the United States, told CNN on Sunday that his Palestine Liberation Organization also welcomed the U.S. support for restarting the peace talks.

At the same time, Areikat called for concrete steps by Israel that showed "they are genuine and sincere about the ending the conflict with us," instead of what he labeled "nationalist, ideological" slogans and steps such as continuing to expand housing settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In his speech Sunday, Obama repeated a line from Thursday that the "status quo" in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is unsustainable. He listed a series of reasons why conditions on the ground dictated the need for a revitalized peace effort now.

"First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories," Obama said. "This will make it harder and harder - without a peace deal - to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state."

He also cited the increasing difficulty for Israel to defend itself against regional enemies, and the "new generation" of Arabs reshaping the entire region through the protest movement that already has toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

"A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained," Obama said, adding that a growing regional and international impatience with the Israel-Palestinian peace process is leading some to look for other options, such as a U.N. resolution in September to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Even though such a U.N. General Assembly resolution would be non-binding, Obama told the AIPAC meeting that the United States would oppose any effort to isolate Israel in international forums.

He also repeated U.S. criticism of Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.

Hamas and the other main Palestinian group, the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas that heads the governing authority in the West Bank, agreed on May 4 to work together to set up unifying elections in May 2012.

Areikat said that under the agreement, Fatah would continue to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians until they can elect their own leaders and representatives next year.

"Hopefully, come May 2012, the Palestinian people will be able to choose those people who are committed to negotiating a peaceful resolution with Israel," Areikat said, conceding that Hamas would be a voice in any Palestinian unity government that emerges from next year's vote.

Obama said Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. The audience applauded loudly when Obama called for Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured five years ago.

In response, Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told CNN that the U.S. government has "a clear preference for Israel" at the expense of freedom for the Palestinian people and their right to establish a sovereign state.

In the United States, political opponents criticized Obama for what they described as harming Israel's negotiating position with the Palestinians.

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich labeled the Obama policy a "disaster" and "extraordinarily dangerous" in an appearance Sunday on the CBS program "Face the Nation."

"A president who can't control his own border probably shouldn't lecture Israel about their border," Gingrich said.

While a few boos and groans were heard in the AIPAC crowd when Obama raised the border issue Sunday, he received consistent applause throughout the speech and a vigorous standing ovation at the end.

In Israel, about 150 right-wing activists protested Sunday against Obama's policy in front of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, with some bearing slogans that declared: "Obama, Israelis are not willing to commit suicide."

Topics: Middle East • President Obama • The News

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Tim

    For all we do for Israel it is astounding that a PM of that country would be so disrespectful to any American president. Not to mention the huge snub Bebe gave to VP Biden some time back. Haven't we paid enough for our support for Israel? Fighting two wars in the Middle East in part due to our unconditional support of Israel. A huge amount of foreign aid estimated by some at $35,000 US tax dollars per Israeli citizen per year! Yet it appears that Israel wags the tail of the us dog, not the other way around. Our unconditional support of Israel has only emboldened them to be the bully of the Middle East. They shot down 12 Palestinians last week, with hardly a whimper from the press. I really think it is time we rethink our support and vast aid to such an ungrateful and undeserving government. Israel will have to learn to get along with its neighbors, and the US being the bully big brother behind them only makes it harder for Israel in the long run to come to some kind of terms with them.

    May 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  2. NoWings

    "...about 150 right wing activists". Really? I mean.... c'mon, REALLY? It must be true since CNN reported it. Did those protesting show their right wing activist membership card? What gave them away - disatisfaction with the Pres' comments? The issue affects all Israeli Citizens.

    Left, Right, Middle - we are not blind to colorful reporting. Want to add colorful commentary - change the name to SNL. Can't do that? Then add a disclaimor "We reserve the right to make reports lean at our discretion".

    May 23, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  3. boxter

    Why would Zionists want to discuss any peace agreement with the Palestinians when they have overwhelming military supremacy, seemingly ultimate power, and apparently bright future? Because the future is completely opposite and Zionists know it.

    1. All military powers in history with no exception ultimately came crashing down. Someone stronger always comes, and it does not take a rocket scientist to see (just look around you) this coming and not ending well for the current military power in Palestine. Forward-seeing Jewish people under the Zionist regime already started packing up and leaving for Australia, South America, and the U.S. before this occurs.

    2. It is obvious that the Zionist regime survives mainly because of its external allies who so far provided it with money, weapons, political support, access to markets, etc. After countless U.N. human rights violations, killing of its allies’ citizens (search on youtube for American “Rachel Corrie” video of Zionist bulldozer crushing her to death), forging of its allies’ passports in acts of murder, etc. its former allies are increasingly turning against the Zionist regime. Who would want to be remembered in history as an accomplice in international murders and especially of their own citizens.

    3. Not only that the list of remaining supporters is growing thinner, but an international coalition is formed and growing larger of countries that are cutting all economic and diplomatic relations with the Zionist regime.

    4. No country ever survived a complete isolation from its neighbors. No person of the area currently under Zionist occupation can obtain any type of visa from any of the surrounding countries for any reason – a complete land lock.

    5. Well attended speeches take place almost weekly at colleges and universities across the U.S. and the world condemning the Zionist regime, their remaining supporters, and companies that do any business there. These speeches are often lead by moral Jewish people, church leaders, business people, etc., in addition to traditional peace activists.

    6. The West where most of the traditional supporters of the Zionist regime are located is loosing global influence. China, the Middle East, South East Asia, Russia, South America, etc. are emerging as new pockets of economic and political power where the Zionist regime has angered most of the population.

    7. Not only that the West is declining, but Zionists are loosing political control in the declining West. Diversity is bringing minority groups into politics, groups that are actively opposing the Zionist regime.
    In conclusion, the Zionist regime is negotiating now because its future is changing for much worse. It knows that it temporarily exists now only through the force of its arms and this will be short-lived. It knows that it is at its peak and a downturn has come. It is a mistake to negotiate with the Zionist regime at the present time. But, if you have to negotiate, do not accept anything less than a single region in question (single state) where all who live there are equal. Any other “solution” would just reward the Zionist regime at the time of its demise. If the Zionist regime wants true piece, let’s not make it dependent on Zionist political and land acquisition goals, but on democratic vote for all who live there and making everyone equal (something we Americans cherish so passionately).
    All who wish to reproduce my comment on mailing lists, repost on other blogs, or send to politicians and public officials are welcome to do so. Let justice be served!

    May 31, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  4. lustboy

    Imagine in the current time if France would want to create its own state in Michigan and separate it from the U.S. French are a minority in Michigan so democratic vote on the separation would not work because they would be outvoted by the rest of the Americans living in Michigan. So imagine if they had a historic opportunity when the U.S. is at its weakest and militarily occupy a part of Michigan and impose a regime where only French can vote and all the others who lived there cannot. Furthermore, the occupiers rename the occupied part of Michigan as the “French State” where not only that Americans are not welcome, but they are systematically expelled over time creating huge refugee camps in nearby states of Indiana and Ohio. Imagine then that at that point in history the artificial organization called the United Nations is full of French supporters and somehow that makes the occupation “legal” and Americans who fight for their homes in the occupied part of Michigan are labeled as terrorists. The occupation is a part of a careful log-term plan (i.e. Zionism) of acquiring land by French, so literally days after the occupation is implemented (what a coordinated plan!) the occupiers import millions of other French from all over the world to increase their population in Michigan from around 100,000 to over 5 Million in a short period. Then Americans resist and fight to regain the occupied part of Michigan, but Russia steps in, sends weapons, cash, and everything else the occupiers need to sustain the occupation.

    What do you think all of us Americans would feel? We would hate French first, and then all of their supporters (Russia in this analogy) that make the occupation of our land possible. Still questioning yourself why people in the Middle East and other parts of the world do not like us? Because our Zionist controlled government, not the people, supported the very exact scenario as described above against our will and with our tax money making us accomplices in this unspeakable crime. The scenario that would outrage all of us Americans and make us fight against it if it happened in Michigan or anywhere else in the U.S.

    This comment is not intended to make derogatory remarks about France and Russia. It is merely used as an example of how Americans would be outraged and fight back in the same situation as the forced establishment of the Zionist regime and its occupation of Palestine.
    Urge your state representatives and senators to immediately stop any remaining support for the Zionist regime. Much of the support already stopped because of the increasing pressure on this issue, but we Americans need to completely distance ourselves from this oppressive regime and start actively opposing it.

    It appears that sharing and reposting others’ comments is becoming a trend. You can definitely copy, repost, or email mine to anyone including lobbying senators, state representatives and any other public officials who shape our country’s foreign policies.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  5. grasshooper

    The main Zionist claim is that they have a supreme right to some of Palestinian territory because they lived there thousands of years ago. Let’s examine the core and real nature of this claim.
    Firstly, this claim is mistaken and selfish in its core concept because Zionists fail to recognize that history is a continuum and that there were other people living in majority in Palestine before the Jews and also after the Jews. Zionists simply cut history at a convenient point for them and claim ancestral ties to the land as of that convenient point.
    Secondly, whatever the claim, it is beyond absurd to try to shape modern world based on thousands of years old maps. Imagine if the rest of the world would be reshaped by who was on the land thousands of years ago. It would cause horrific wars, countless refugees, and unimaginable human suffering, exactly what is happening in Palestine.
    Thirdly and most disturbing, Zionist goal was to establish a Jewish state wherever possible. Palestine may have been a preference, but Palestine was not the only location that Zionists planned as their state in modern times. Another location was Argentina where Jews have been migrating for hundreds of years for the purpose of establishing a state. Also, locations in Europe were on the list and that’s why the Catholic Church was killing/expelling Jews since Roman times (read the history of the Holly Inquisition). Whatever the location, Zionist plan was to simply occupy the people living on the land even if that would mean imposing a regime worst than Nazi Germany’s from which they escaped. And Zionists would just use a different ideological coloring than the one used in Palestine in the attempt to rationalize the occupation.

    In conclusion, the main claim on which the Zionist regime is built in Palestine is erroneous, selfish, and a lie. I am categorically against generalizing, and recognize that many Jews are against the crimes the Zionist regime is committing and that many Jews are leading the global resistance to it. They should be proud.

    May 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm |