“Israelis and Palestinians will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its annual conference in Washington.
While sticking to the views he outlined in a Middle East policy speech Thursday, Obama more clearly aligned his position on borders to one espoused by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. The Bush White House had concluded that a return to the precise boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war was “not realistic,” because of the presence of large Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Acknowledging that Israel faced “hard choices” and security risks, Obama argued that stalling on peace negotiations posed even greater dangers for the country’s survival. The Arab Spring movement and changing demographic forces — including growing numbers of Palestinians west of the Jordan River — present long-term challenges to Israel that will be resolved only by the creation of separate homelands for Jews and Palestinians, he said.
Meanwhile, Israel faces increasing political isolation as Palestinians press their demands for international recognition of a Palestinian state, Obama said.
“No matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option,” he said. “The status quo is unsustainable.”
Obama also reiterated themes of unshakable support for Israel that brought loud applause from the packed auditorium of nearly 10,000. He affirmed U.S. opposition to a Palestinian plan to seek a vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Palestinian statehood in September. He vowed to help Israel defend itself, promising U.S. military assistance on missile defense and pledging to block Iranian nuclear aspirations. And he assailed a recent Palestinian unity agreement that elevated the stature of the Hamas movement, which the United States and Israel regard as a terrorist group.
“No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” he said.
Obama said he was not surprised by the uproar over his Thursday speech but added that “if there is controversy, it is not based on substance.”
“What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” he said. “I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”