Israeli PM rebuffs Obama on Middle East proposal

Peace appears distant after Netanyahu snub to US president

In an unusually sharp rebuke to Israel’s closest ally, Netanyahu insisted Israel would never pull back to its 1967 borders—which would mean big concessions of occupied land—that Obama had said should be the basis for negotiations on creating a Palestinian state.

“Peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle East reality,” Netanyahu said as Obama listened intently beside him in the Oval Office after they met for talks.

Netanyahu insisted that Israel was willing to make compromises for peace, but made clear he had major differences with Washington over how to advance the long-stalled peace process.

Netanyahu’s resistance raises the question of how hard Obama will push for concessions he is unlikely to get, and whether the vision the United States  leader laid out on Thursday to resolve the decades-old conflict will ever get off the ground.

Despite assurances of friendship by both leaders, this week’s events also appeared to herald tense months ahead for US-Israeli relations, even as the Arab world goes through political tumult. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Obama said he reiterated to Netanyahu the peace “principles” he offered on Thursday in a policy speech on the Middle East upheaval.

The goal, he said, “has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.

Obama on Thursday embraced a long-sought goal by the Palestinians: that the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured those territories and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, who heads a right-leaning coalition, responded with what amounted to a history lecture about the vulnerability to attack that Israel faced with the old borders. “We can’t go back to those indefensible lines,” he said.

Picking a fight with Israel could be politically risky for Obama at home as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Crisis in relations

The brewing crisis in US-Israeli relations dimmed even further the prospect for resuming peace talks that collapsed late last year when Palestinians walked away in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

Obama and Netanyahu, meanwhile, appear to have reached an impasse after two and a half years of rocky relations. The Obama White House was angered when Netanyahu refused a US demand to halt building Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Some Israelis have never felt entirely comfortable with Obama, unnerved by his early attempts to reach out to Iran and his support for popular Arab revolutions that have unsettled Israel.

In a pointed comment clearly aimed at Obama’s new approach to the long-running conflict, Netanyahu said: “The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts.”

Netanyahu, Israeli officials said, was determined to push back hard because the reference to 1967 borders was a red flag that would attract more international pressure on Israel for concessions.

Palestinians’ bid for statehood status

Palestinians will seek recognition as a United Nations member-state in September given the deadlock in US-brokered peacemaking with Israel, a senior Palestinian official said on Saturday, Reuters reports from Ramallah, West Bank.

Nabil Shaath urged President Barack Obama, who on Thursday criticised the planned move at the UN general assembly, to join other countries in endorsing a Palestinian state taking in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Another Palestinian official, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the drive to win statehood status unilaterally could be forestalled should Israel accept the demand to extend a freeze on its settlement on occupied land.


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