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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Netanyahu Responds to Obama's Demands of Israel

Prime Minister Netanyahu made some remarks at his joint photo op with President Obama before the White House reporters and photographers:

"We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East. I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now and in our conversation, and in actual deed, the commitment to Israel's security. We value your efforts to advance the peace process.

This is something that we want to have accomplished. Israel wants peace. I want peace. What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure. And I think that we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts.

I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don't take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of 9 miles wide - half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive from them.

So we can't go back to those indefensible lines, and we're going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.

I discussed this with the president. I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.

The second echoes something the president just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas. Hamas, as the president said, is a terrorist organization, committed to Israel's destruction. It's fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children. It's recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy.

And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden. So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaida.

I think President Abbas has a simple choice. He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel. And I can only express what I said to you just now: that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, of choosing peace with Israel.

But a third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state but certainly not in the borders of Israel. The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems, Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.

Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel: accept the grandchildren, really, and the great-grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel's future as a Jewish state. So that's not going to happen. Everybody knows it's not going to happen. And I think it's time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly, it's not going to happen.

The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved. And it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in Palestinian state. That's a real possibility. But it's not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

The president and I discussed all of these issues, and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there is an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, a peace that is defensible.

Mr. President, you are the leader of a great people, the American people. And I am the leader of a much smaller people.

It's a great people too. It's the ancient nation of Israel. And you know, we've been around for almost 4,000 years. We have experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We've gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions.

But I can say that even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel. And now it falls on my shoulders as the prime minister of Israel at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel's security and will not jeopardize its survival.

I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don't have a lot of margin for error and because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance."

The fact that liberal websites are opining that BiBi has overplayed his hand - had a "tantrum" -in reaction to President Obama using the 1967 borders as a starting point to peace negotiations, tells me that BiBi probably got it right. Obama deserved to be smacked for his petty minded speech on the Arab Spring narrative and for dragging Israel into the mix.

This piece speaks to the tempered response from Netanyahu to Obama while being strong and legit.

It was very nervy of Bibi, and certainly opens him up to the charge of being chutzpahdik with Israel’s greatest ally. But what exactly did he have to lose? He faces a hostile president, but one who governs a country overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Could things get worse with Obama than they were last year? And could things get better for Netanyahu if Obama finds he is paying a price for being at odds with the American people on one of the few foreign policy issues they care about?

It is well documented that Obama got off to a very rocky start with Israel. Obama was determined to publicly support Palestine and made no bones about it. He pointedly blamed Israel from having its national security at the forefront of its peace negotiations. Now Obama wants to impose his prejudice against the Jews on a renewed desire to enter the peace process after ignoring it for the first two years of his administration. It's re-election time and Obama has to appear interested in a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

So, what did Obama do? Overreached, as usual. He started with using the 1967 borders as the starting point in negotiations, not as a guideline to negotiate land acquisition. Plus, he put Jerusalem into play after promising in the 2008 campaign to not do so. Another campaign promise unmet. The 2004 agreement with Israel and the U.S. made clear that the 1967 borders were not in play. That was a country to country agreement, not an agreement made with one president. Now, this president wants to toss it aside as though it didn't happen.

And, from Senator Joe Lieberman: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, among the highest-profile Jewish officeholders in American government, blasted President Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East Friday, calling portions of it “profoundly ill-advised.”

“As in the case of the President’s counterproductive demand for a settlement freeze two years ago, unilateral statements of this sort do nothing to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table and in fact make it harder for them to do so. They also damage the relationship of trust that is critical to peacemaking.”

Mr. Lieberman’s comments could have political ramifications. The Jewish community tends to vote mostly Democratic, and Mr. Obama won the Jewish vote 78%-22%. But during the campaign, some Jewish voters expressed concern that Mr. Obama would be an insufficiently reliable ally for Israel.

The comments of Mr. Lieberman, the only Orthodox Jew in the Senate, could resonate in the Jewish community. Mr. Lieberman said he hopes Mr. Obama makes clear in coming days that “the 1967 borders themselves are no longer an acceptable endpoint for negotiations because they do not allow Israel to defend itself, and that any peace agreement must reflect new realities on the ground, including the major new Israeli communities that have grown up since 1967.”


President Obama goes to AIPAC Sunday to deliver a speech, as does Netanyahu. Netanyahu will also address a joint session of Congress next week.

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