President Barack Obama has called for the creation of a non-militarized Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 Israeli borders.
“At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever,” he said.
Although Mr. Obama said that “the core issues” dividing Israelis and Palestinians remained to be negotiated, including the searing questions of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, he spoke with striking frustration that efforts to support an agreement had so far failed. “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome,” he said.
The outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement came in what the president called “a moment of opportunity” after six months of political upheaval that has at times left the administration scrambling to keep up. The speech was an attempt to articulate a cohesive American policy to an Arab Spring that took a dark turn as the euphoria of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt gave way to violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria, a civil war in Libya and political stalemate in Yemen.
The American posture seems to reflect the growing international frustration with Israel's occupation of the Palestinian homeland. That is expected to result in a United Nations vote this September to recognize Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu wasted no time responding to Obama's speech. He rejected the demand that Israel withdraw to what he described as "indefensible" borders and said he expected Washington to allow Israel to retain illegal settlements in the West Bank.
"Israel appreciates President's Obama commitment to peace ," Netanyahu said, but stressed that he expects Obama to refrain from demanding that Israel withdraw to "indefensible " 1967 borders "which will leave a large population of Israelis [illegally] in Judea and Samaria and outside Israel's borders."
Some in the Israeli press have recently observed that Netanyahu now finds himself in a predicament beyond his control and for which he has no response except to say "no." You can sure as hell bet he'll be summoning every ounce of support he can muster from the fundamentalist Christian Right in the U.S. and Canada in the coming weeks. It'll be interesting watching Harper weigh in on this one.