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Updated: May 20, 2011 23:11 IST

Netanyahu fumes over U.S. President's peace plan

Atul Aneja
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. File photo: AP.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. File photo: AP.

From Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu dismissed the position as "indefensible," saying it would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel. Then he boarded a plane for his long—scheduled visit to Washington, vowing to seek clarifications in his meeting with Mr. Obama at the White House. He arrived in Washington early Friday.

Hours before his meeting at the White House on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed the United States' assertion that acceptance of the pre-1967-war borders should be the starting point of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel's existence,” said Mr. Netanyahu before leaving for the U.S. for talks with President Barack Obama.

During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel expanded its hold over the West Bank of the Jordan river, the Gaza strip and entire Jerusalem.

Mr. Netanyahu said he expected “to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004”. Analysts say he was referring to a letter issued by the former President, George Bush, that suggested Israel could keep some of the major settlement blocs in the occupied land as part of a peace deal. “Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines,” said Mr. Netanyahu.

He added that “those commitments” are necessary to preserve Israel's status as a Jewish state “by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel.”

The New York Times is also reporting quoting officials that ahead of Mr. Obama's address on West Asia, Mr. Netanyahu held “an angry phone conversation” with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in which he demanded the President's reference to 1967 borders be cut. In a keynote address on Thursday regarding U.S. policy towards West Asia, Mr. Obama seemed to fuse his position on the Israel-Palestinian issue with the broader political transformation of the region. “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine,” said Mr. Obama. He added that the borders of Israel and Palestine “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.”

He said 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 than ever”. He also seemed to prioritise reaching an agreement on concrete territorial limits of a full-fledged Palestinian state before addressing other two key issues: the return of Palestinian refugees displaced by earlier wars and the status of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

Palestinian Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the U.S. President's speech was disappointing. “What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation,” he told Al Jazeera. But Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which has recently reached a unity accord with Hamas, has welcomed Mr. Obama's address.

During his speech, Mr. Obama said that recognition of Israel's right to exist was fundamental to the arrival of a peace deal. “Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realise their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.”

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