May 22 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama told the nation’s largest pro-Israel lobby that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is “ironclad” and he will block any moves that would undermine it.
Obama repeated that the template for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should use the 1967 borders as a starting point in peace talks. He said that does not mean that the borders will be the same as existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem that year in the Six Day War with Arab nations.
“This basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations,” Obama said in an address today to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington. “It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
Obama’s proposal, made in a speech delivered at the State Department on May 19, marked the first time a U.S. president has explicitly backed using the 1967 boundaries as the starting point for talks that would have Israel cede control of some land to Palestinians in return for peace and security. He also called for Palestinian territory to be demilitarized. Obama offered no steps to restart the stalled peace talks.
That speech stirred criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some Republicans in the U.S. At a May 20 White House meeting with Obama at his side, Netanyahu said boundaries based on the 1967 lines would be “indefensible.”
The Israeli leader is scheduled to speak to AIPAC tomorrow.
Obama said a deal along 1967 lines, which has been the basis for off-and-on talks for 20 years, needs to include land exchanges to allow Israel to retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.
The president told AIPAC that he wasn’t surprised that his remarks “generated some controversy over the past few days.”
“What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” Obama said. “I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace.”
Several Republicans who are potential opponents for Obama in the 2012 presidential race seized on the president’s position to portray Obama as insufficiently dedicated to Israel’s security.
“Insistence on a return to the 1967 border is a mistaken and very dangerous demand,” said former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement.
The recent agreement between the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas “poses an enormous obstacle to peace,” Obama said. The U.S. and Israel regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” he said.
Obama came to the 2008 AIPAC meeting a day after clinching the Democratic presidential nomination that year to declare his “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security.
Early during the campaign year, polls showed Obama performed poorly with Jewish voters following controversy about sermons his former pastor delivered that included what Obama denounced as “anti-Israel” statements. By election day, Obama recovered, receiving 78 percent of the Jewish vote, more than 74 percent received by 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, according to exit polls.
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