Obama's AIPAC speech gets mixed reviews in Israel

Monday, May 23, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

US President Barack Obama felt his remarks regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over the past few days were misrepresented, and so he sought to set the record straight at the annual America Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC) conference on Sunday.

Addressing the 10,000 AIPAC attendees, Obama insisted he is a "real friend" to Israel, despite accusations that his call last week for Israel to surrender the 1967 borders had put him firmly in the Arab camp.

Israeli officials remained skeptical.

In Sunday's AIPAC speech, Obama pointed out that his administration has advanced military cooperation with Israel, has imposed heavy sanctions on Iran, took Israel's side in the Goldstone Report affair, and has strongly opposed Palestinian efforts to unilaterally declare statehood at the UN later this year.

Regarding his speech last week at the State Department in which Obama insisted Israel must make peace with the Palestinians based on the 1967 borders, the president was adamant that he had been "misrepresented several times."

Obama agreed that Israel could not go back to the 1967 borders as they were, and that "mutually agreed" land swaps would be necessary. However, he continued to suggest that Israel's actions were creating delays that were unacceptable to the international community.

"We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace," said Obama.

An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is still in Washington, told Israel's Ynet news portal that Netanyahu was "pleased" with Obama's clarification regarding the 1967 borders.

Following Obama's State Department speech last week, Netanyahu had publicly rejected the idea that Israel would surrender every inch of Judea and Samaria in a peace deal, noting that the pre-1967 borders had invited several full-scale wars and unending terorism against the Jewish state.

Other members of Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party were less forgiving.

Obama "is zigzagging in accordance with whatever will bring him more votes and justify his Nobel Peace Prize," rising Likud star Danny Danon told Israel National News.

Danon insisted that "Israel will not pay [Obama's] private tuition as he tries to understand the essence of the conflict."

Other Likud lawmakers credited Netanyahu's firm stance with slightly changing Obama's mind, and forcing the American to understand that Israel can hold just as firmly to its demands as the Palestinians.

But many Israeli commentators warned that Obama's stated policies, even after his conciliatory AIPAC speech, remain dangerous, and should not be accepted by Israel.

Most importantly, Obama is still working off the premise that Israel must surrender an equal amount of territory to that liberated in 1967. But, UN Resolution 242, which the Palestinians use as the basis for their claims, does not explicitly define the amount of territory Israel must exchange for peace. And the document's authors have repeatedly stated that the ommission was deliberate.

Gamal Helal, a former adviser to US presidents on Middle East affairs, told the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that what Obama has done is adopt the Arab line concerning negotiations.

Helal noted that for the Arabs - from the Egyptians to the Jordanians to the Palestinians - the 1967 borders have always been the starting point for any peace process, since they don't believe they should lose any territory as a result of their past efforts to destroy Israel.

"The US stance in all the past years has been to agree to the solutions agreed by the sides through the negotiations without the United States stipulating anything so that this stipulation would not be an obstacle at the negotiations," said Helal.

He continued: "This new thesis, which President Obama presented in his Thursday's speech, supports the Arab viewpoint, and is a basic hindrance for the Israeli side, which links the size of Israel before 1967 to the ability to defend it, as the Israelis say that if Israel is of small area, it will be difficult to defend it."

Helal further explained that up until now, the Palestinians had been forced to reluctantly accept that the 1967 borders would be achieved at the conclusion of successful negotiations. Now, Obama has helped them to once again make the 1967 borders the starting point of Arab demands.

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