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In the much-anticipated speech to the state department, President Obama stated that a “mutually agreed swaps” would help create a “viable Palestine, and secure Israel.” He later insisted in an interview with the BBC that the ‘1967 border’ had to be the basis for negotiations on a Palestinian State.
Within a day of the President’s speech, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his governments displeasure about Obama’s views. According to Netanyahu, the borders before the 1967 Middle East conflict were “indefensible”, considering that Israel has constructed an extensive network of settlements beyond those lines. An estimated 300,000 Israelis live in the settlements of the West bank, even though these are illegal under international law, a fact which Israel disputes.
In Thursday’s speech, Mr Obama spoke about the Arab Spring and what this meant for US role in the region. The American president praised the recent developments stating “through the moral force of non-violence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplish in decades.” He acknowledged that the rest of the world had to be patient because change would take years to be constructively implemented. Obama also spoke about the future of US policy to the Middle East, and went into a murky description of the link between US interest and the hopes and desired of the region. When he reached the issue of the continuous conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territory, the President said “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”
“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 Israeli Prime Minister, who is due to meet President Obama for talk at the White House Friday, said that the 1967 border would leave major Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria outside Israeli territory. In a statement, the Prime Minister rejected the idea and said “the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.”
In the statement, Netanyahu called on Mr Obama to reaffirm commitments made to Israel in 2004.
The speech to the state department was far less inspirational than that in Cairo two years ago, according to Jon Leyne of the BBC. Mr Obama summed up an encouraging and poised, yet awkwardly restrained US position towards the flood of democratic momentum in the Middle East and North African region. He said that in the past, the US had accepted the status quo but has now seen a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
Observers, however, are skeptical. How does the President intend to carry out his ideas for a ‘better’ regional situation? With Netanyahu’s blunt rejection of the 1967 borders in what could have been a constructive move in the otherwise stoic conflict, negotiations could already be deterred from moving forward.
The greater realisation is that the Arab Spring could indicate the decline of American influence in the region. As the President himself acknowledged, it was not the US who pushed the people into the street, and his government will have to accept that not all of the nations in revolt will choose to follow the form of democracy that America promotes.
Obama’s best guess is that Israel eventually will soften up on their demands and their deep-rooted objections to a Palestinian state. The unity deal signed between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah earlier this month – along with Mahmoud Abbas’ call for UN recognition – could provide the needed international pressure to revive talks between the two authorities. Until then, Obama can only hope he’s on the right side of history.
Image provided by The National Academy of Sciences