Regional and International leaders have laid out their positions in the aftermath of US President Barack Obama’s speech to both Congress and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Thursday and Saturday respectively. The two speeches, which displayed opposing emphases on the issue of potential future borders, have received a mixed reaction from Palestinian and Israel politiciansBoth Barack Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu have downplayed reports of a rift between the leaders after Obama’s speech on Thursday called for peace talks based on two independent states with mutually agreed land swaps. Netanyahu had reacted negatively to Obama’s proposals in an Oval Office appearance on Friday, stating that 1967 borders would leave Israel vulnerable and isolate settlements in the West Bank.
Obama’s speech to mostly hard line supporters of Israel in AIPAC stroke a decidedly more pro Israel tone with Obama stating that his call for mutually agreed land swaps meant that Israel would not be returning to 1967 borders.
The US president also reiterated his opposition to Palestinian attempts to declare statehood in the UN in September. ‘You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,’ and ‘efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States,” he said.
Obama also spoke of a continued US commitment to arming the Israeli military with the latest in military technology and that his administration was going “beyond” previous US government’s military support to Israel in order to ‘maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.’
Israeli politicians mostly welcomed Obama’s clarified position on future peace talks. PM Netanyahu, through a spokesman, stated that there was no rift between him and Obama, saying “disagreement has been blown way out of proportion”. ‘It is true we have some differences of opinions, but they are differences among friends,’ Netanyahu said.
Members of the Israeli Knesset, both from the right and the so-called left, voiced support for Obama’s talk. Those on the left went as far to call on Netanyahu to apologize to US President Obama for his previous negative reaction to the president’s speech. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that Likud MK Shama Hacochen stated that, ‘The wisdom and determination of the prime minister and the dividends that they yielded were evident in President Obama’s speech. President Obama gave an explicit, emphatic ‘no’ to the ’67 lines and Hamas [while expressing] boundless support for the State of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state whose security is ensured.’
Hamas has reacted negatively to Obama’s talk, which specifically called for the organization to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, calling it a “disaster”. Hamas, through its position in the Palestine Liberation Organization, has previously recognized Israel, but has pointed out on numerous occasions that the call to support Israel’s ‘Jewish character’ explicitly denies the right of 3.5 million Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel. The group says that since that right is internationally-recognized and inalienable, they have no right as an organization to deny the refugees that right.
Obama’s speech called for the permanent shelving of any claim of the right for return for Palestinian refugees displaced from their homes in Israel, despite international law recognizing this right.
Hamas leader Dr Ismail Radwan stated that “Obama’s speech was a setback to those who support American policy and political stands, and we reject his statements that only reflect a full bias to occupation at the expense of the [inalienable] rights of the Palestinian people”.
Palestinian Authority leaders and spokespeople have given muted reactions to the speeches. While the PA did not give an official reaction, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, in meetings in Amman with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, stated that Hamas is a “part of Palestinian society” and that Palestinian unity could not be undermined.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has called on Netanyahu to support Obama’s call for peace talks based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. ‘If Netanyahu thinks that 1967 lines are an illusion, then peace for him is an illusion,’ he added.
Obama’s talk to AIPAC fuels criticism in the region that he is predominantly concerned with placating powerful Zionist lobbies in Washington and defending his share of the vote from the American Jewish community in next year’s upcoming election. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is the largest Zionist lobby in the US, and Obama is the first standing President to address the group’s annual conference.
Critics say that Obama gave contradictory messages in his speeches – on one side, calling on Israel to recognize the 1967 borders and to end illegal Israeli West Bank settlements, but in the same speech, putting no pressure on the Israeli administration to follow this directive, and instead announcing an extension of US aid to the Israeli military.