Netanyahu adamant: no return to the 1967 borders

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there is no chance Israel would return to the 1967 borders. His statement was made in reaction to the peace initiative proposed earlier by Barack Obama.

­In a speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu reiterated his country's friendship with Washington and expressed a readiness for “painful concessions, but still failed to offer any new solutions to the Middle East conflict.

According to the prime minister, Israel is ready to recognize the future Palestinian state, but only if the Palestinians are in turn ready to recognize the Jewish state.

Israel would be generous in regard to the size of the future Palestinian state, he said, but would be careful with where the borders lie, taking into account demographics and the security of the Israeli people.

Netanyahu stressed that his government will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, which Israel considers to be a terrorist group. The Palestinians, for their part, are refusing to start talks before Israel stops building settlements on the disputed territories. 

Although Netanyahu’s speech was mainly dedicated to the peace process, the head of the Israeli government did make a harsh statement about Iran, saying only the threat of a military attack can force Tehran to abort its nuclear weapons program.

Last Thursday, the US president called on Israel to accept the proposal backed by the UN, EU and Russia. The proposal involves Israel’s return of territory captured during the 1967 Six-Day War against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Later on Sunday, Obama explained that the final agreement would involve land swaps to meet the parties’ concerns.

Going back to the 1967 borders would force Israel to give up illegal settlements inside of Palestinian territory. Obama’s suggestion was met with fierce criticism from Israel, which says that a return to the pre-war borders will leave it vulnerable. On Monday, Netanyahu reiterated his government’s position after Obama’s clarification.

Human rights lawyer Noura Erakat says that Washington's call for peace goes against its own actions.

“The US had an opportunity to… deal with the [Israeli West Bank] settlements as an illegal structure… in January when it came up to the UN Security Council vote and the US vetoed that UN Security Council resolution. It means that the US may say ’67’ but it is not ready to provide the political will to do something about it,” she told RT.

Basically, what the US is offering the Palestinians is neither sovereignty nor statehood. “What they’re offering is a land where they have some sort of autonomy very similar to black townships in South Africa or reservations in the United States,” the activist said.

­Foreign affairs expert Stephen Zunes says dictating the internal policies of other countries is not a viable premise for peace negotiations. 

“No country has a right to say, ‘we’ll only negotiate with you if you form your coalition government in a certain way,’” Zunes said. “And especially when you look at the Israeli cabinet. If you look the coalition government and Netanyahu, you have parties as extreme as Hamas in the other direction. Parties that say Palestine has no right to exist. Parties that want to engage in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population from the entire territory west of the Jordan. Parties that support far-rightwing paramilitary groups, essentially terrorists who have murdered Palestinian civilians. So there’s a clear double standard here, and unfortunately the US is buying into this double standard.”

­Meanwhile, leaders of the Palestinian political parties Hamas and Fatah, who recently reconciled after years of hostilities, are meeting on Tuesday in Ramallah on the West Bank to negotiate a common position on Obama’s proposal.

A spokesman for Fatah Azzam al-Ahmad said that the suggestion sends an important message for Middle East peace process, but it doesn’t cover some important issues.

“The words are not enough because they say nothing about the status of Jerusalem.  Later, Barack Obama made a statement which contradicted the previous one,” he said as cited by RIA Novosti news agency.

Hamas suspects that Obama’s proposal was motivated by his electoral goals rather than the interests of the peace process, and that such attitude must change, the party’s senior official Mousa Abu Marzook said.

US political writer and blogger Emily Hauser believes that President Barack Obama’s peace initiative will not translate into Israel receiving less support from Washington in the future. 

“There is no rift between the two sides,” she said. “There’s absolutely zero chance that the US – either the government or Congress – will turn its back on the Jewish state anytime soon. This president, like all the presidents before him, has stated over and over again that this country’s support for Israel is ironclad.”

Hauser added that the lack of personal ties between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not something that affects relations between the US and Israel.  

“These two men don’t like each other, and they come at the [peace] issue from very different directions, but our countries exist within the realities of international diplomacy and have a very long history together,” Hauser said. “What Mr. Obama is doing is frankly asking the Israeli government, ‘Are you onboard or are you not onboard with the very thing you’ve been driving toward ever since your government was formed?’”