U.S. President calls for Palestinian state on 1967 borders

Netanyahu rejects pullout to 1967 borders, giving back Jerusalem, dismantling settlements

European nations support Obama’s vision on Mideast solution

International Quartet holds extraordinary meeting to push peace ahead

During a major speech on Middle East policy this week, U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to directly address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and called for the creation of a Palestinian state along the borders which existed before the 1967 Six Day War. As the NY Times notes, it's the first time an American president has explicitly taken that position.

"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 Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state," he said. At the United Nations General Assembly last year, Obama said that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine, one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity.

Obama also sounded frustrated with both sides for the seemingly endless amount of failed peace talks between the two nations.

He admitted there was much left to be negotiated about, particularly regarding refugees, but he framed the speech in the context of the great political upheaval which has swept through the area in recent months: “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.

Shortly after Obama's speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in the White House for a meeting this week, responded to the President's speech, calling the 1967 proposal "indefensible," and said he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of American commitments made to Israel in 2004 which were overwhelmingly supported by both houses of Congress.”

Obama's compromise would force Israel to give up land which it won in the Six Day War.

During his speech, Obama made sure to criticize the Palestinian side as well: he said that any "efforts to de-legitimize Israel will end in failure," chided Hamas for its "path of terror and rejection," and reiterated America's close ties to Israel:

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The United Nations, European Union and Russia gave strong backing Friday to President Barack Obama's "vision" for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They agreed that Obama's starting point — borders for Palestine, security for Israel — provides "a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues."

The U.N., EU, and Russia, along with the United States, comprise the Quartet of international mediators which has been trying for nearly a decade to promote a Mideast peace settlement.

The Quartet members said in a statement issued Friday that they are "in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."

"The Quartet reiterates its strong appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues," the statement said.

In a major speech Thursday on the Mideast, Obama for the first time explicitly endorsed the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war as a starting point for negotiations — a key Palestinian demand. He added that there should be land swaps agreed to by both sides, which could accommodate some existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The U.S. stance was not a major policy change, since the United States — along with the international community and even past Israeli governments — previously endorsed an agreement building on the 1967 lines.

As for security, Obama said "Israel must be able to defend itself by itself against any threat" so there must be provisions to prevent terrorism, stop infiltration of weapons, and provide effective border security. He also said Israeli military forces must make a "full and phased withdrawal" co-coordinated with the Palestinians' assumption of "security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state."

Britain, France and Germany had been seeking a Quartet meeting in April to endorse the outlines of a peace settlement they proposed — which also included starting negotiations based on the pre-1967 war lines. But the U.S. blocked the meeting, saying it wasn't the right time and the Obama administration didn't think a Quartet meeting would produce anything that would help restart the talks.

Friday's Quartet statement made no mention of a future Quartet meeting.

September looms large in the quest for Mideast peace because Israel and the Palestinians have agreed on Obama's target of September 2011 for a peace agreement, a date endorsed by the EU and much of the world.

When U.S.-brokered direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed last September, Obama announced at the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting that a peace treaty should be signed in a year. But those talks collapsed weeks later after Israel ended its freeze on building settlements.

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — lands it captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks and that settlements didn't stop them from negotiating in the past.

Obama met Friday at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before his departure from Israel, Netanyahu dismissed Obama's position on the pre-1967 borders as "indefensible," saying it would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel.

Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said Obama's support for the pre-1967 war borders will help the Palestinians win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

He linked Obama's backing for the borders to the Palestinian campaign to get two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly — at least 128 of its 192 member states — to recognize Palestine as a state by September. Palestine is already recognized by 112 countries and he predicted the Palestinians would get support from at least 130 nations in the next few months.

But for a newly created Palestine to become a member of the United Nations, Abdelaziz said, it must get support from the Security Council, where the United States, Israel's closest ally, has veto power.

"If they put a resolution in the General Assembly requesting the Security Council to recognize the state of Palestine and this resolution passes ... with 170 or 180 votes, I'm sure that this is going to put a lot of moral pressure on the Security Council, and particularly on the United States, in order not to veto," Abdelaziz told a group of reporters on Thursday.

He said he didn't know whether the Palestinians will push for a resolution in September because Palestinian leaders are still discussing what to do.

In his speech Thursday, Obama rejected efforts by the Palestinians to unilaterally take their bid for statehood to the U.N., saying, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."

The Palestinians vowed on Wednesday to push ahead with plans to seek UN backing as long as talks are off the agenda, prompting Barack Obama to warn it would be a "mistake."

"I strongly believe for the Palestinians to take the United Nations route rather than the path of sitting down and talking with the Israelis is a mistake," the US president said in London at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Since the collapse of direct peace talks late last year, the Palestinian leadership has been pursuing a diplomatic strategy aimed at securing UN recognition of their promised state on 1967 borders in a move which has drawn sharp criticism from Israel and Washington.

"The only way we are going to see a Palestinian state is if Israelis and Palestinians agree on a just peace," Obama said, warning that peace would only work if both sides agreed to a "wrenching compromise."

Obama's remarks came after a week of high-level debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has left the prospects of a revival of peace talks more remote than ever.

Earlier on Wednesday, president Mahmoud Abbas warned that unless there was a fresh round of peace negotiations, the Palestinians would head to the UN in September in the hope of being accepted as a full member of the world body.

"Our first choice is negotiations but if there is no progress before September, we will go to the United Nations," he said in remarks which came a day after Netanyahu had outlined his views on a peace deal with the Palestinians in a speech to the US Congress.

In his address, Netanyahu repeated a litany of well-known Israeli demands of the Palestinians but broke no new political ground and offered no incentives to break the deadlock in peace talks.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech... contained many errors and distortions and was a long way from the peace process," Abbas told reporters at the start of a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Netanyahu said he was willing to make "painful compromises" for peace if the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state but he ruled out a division of Jerusalem, the return of the refugees or the idea of pulling back to the 1967 borders.

Last week, Obama made a key policy speech in which he said the territorial lines in place before the 1967 Six Day War, combined with land-swaps, should be the basis for talks on a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The idea was rejected out of hand by Netanyahu but hailed by the Palestinians, with senior PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo on Wednesday urging the UN Security Council and the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers to formally adopt the US president's proposals.

Reading out a statement at the end of the PLO meeting, Abed Rabbo said the leadership wanted the two bodies to "lay out a mechanism and a timeframe... to implement Obama's ideas in accordance with all the Arab and international references to launch a serious peace process."

The collapse of peace talks meant the Palestinians were compelled to examine the option of approaching the United Nations as a route to statehood, he said.

"The Palestinian leadership affirms its choice for negotiations but the fact that the door to the peace process is closed will force it to consider all other options, including going to the Security Council or the General Assembly in September."

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late September, when they ground to a halt over the issue of Israeli settlement construction, just weeks after they were re-launched in Washington.