Netanyahu defies Obama on '67 borders at meeting
WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Friday that Israel would not withdraw to 1967 borders to help make way for an adjacent Palestinian state. President Barack Obama, seated beside him, had called on Israel to be willing to do just that in a speech the day before.
The Israeli leader said he would make some concessions but Israel would not go back to the lines from decades earlier because they would be "indefensible."
For his part, Obama said that there were differences of formulations and language but that such disputes are going to happen "between friends."
The president never mentioned the 1967 borders as the two men talked with reporters. The leaders spoke after a lengthy meeting in the Oval Office, amid tense times.
Obama said in his speech on Thursday that the United States supports creation of a Palestinian state based on the border lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel forces occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The comment drew angry criticism in Israel, and Netanyahu made clear after meeting with Obama that the idea was unacceptable.
"We cannot go back to those indefensible lines," said Netanyahu.
Both Obama and Netanyahu said they shared a desire to get to peace and played down disagreements. "We may have differences here and there," Netanyahu said.
But there was no sign of resolution of the many barriers that stand between Israel and the Palestinians, more now than last September when Obama brought the two parties together to call for a peace deal within a year -- a deadline that now looks unattainable.
Netanyahu said his nation could not negotiate with a newly constituted Palestinian unity government that includes the radical Hamas movement, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. He said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had to choose between continuing the deal with Hamas and making peace with Israel.
Obama agreed that Hamas "is not a partner for a significant realistic peace process" and said Palestinians would have to resolve that issue among themselves.
Yet both Obama and Netanyahu emphasized a need to make some kind of progress, against all obstacles, as changes sweep the Arab world.
"History will not give the Jewish people another chance," Netanyahu said.
Another major stumbling block is how to resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians demands a "right of return" of large numbers of refugees and descendants to Israel, but Israeli leaders say this would dilute the Jewish presence in Israel so that it would no longer be the Jewish state that Netanyahu demands and Obama supports.
"That's not going to happen," Netanyahu said. He said Palestinians need to recognize that.
All in all, the comments from Netanyahu and Obama, after a longer-than-scheduled meeting that lasted more than 90 minutes, sounded more like a recitation of the many barriers to peace than an explanation of why there should be any reason for optimism.
The two leaders did not take questions from the reporters, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was unable in a subsequent briefing to point to any concrete signs of progress.
That left the way forward as cloudy as ever.
Palestinian leaders are consulting with Arab governments on how to respond to Obama's speech. Netanyahu is to address the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to press Israel's position.
CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante said the encounter pit a president deeply frustrated with a Mideast peace effort in shambles against an Israeli leader who says he cannot do business with the newly-joined Palestinian government.
The president Thursday called for a resumption of peace talks, and for the first time put explicit U.S. approval on a key Palestinian demand: "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually-agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," the president said.Netanyahu immediately rejected any deal that would mean giving up territory gained in the 1967 War, even though in the final agreement Israel would likely retain its largest settlements.
On CBS' "The Early Show," former Assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin said the president's speech invited the harsh tone from the Israelis.
"That's partly a function of his willingness in the past to put to the Israeli government his differences on issues like settlements, which is now what the Israeli government is complaining about," Rubin said. "So to the extent that the Israelis respond to President Obama's urging that they get serious about the negotiations, this could have a positive effect. But right now, it's turned into a real diplomatic flap."
President Obama's stance on the 1967 borders was not a major policy change, since the U.S - along with the international community and even past Israeli governments - previously endorsed an agreement building on the 1967 lines.
But it was the first time he'd explicitly endorsed those borders as a starting point, a position Netanyahu rejects.
Obama, Netanyahu meet at White House
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