Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Israel's Netanyahu rejects return to 1967 borders

Netanyahu called on Palestinian leader Abbas to accept a Jewish state

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected American pressure to make significant concessions and has said that Israel “will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967” in a major speech to US Congress on 24th May.

Speaking to a largely sympathetic Congress, Netanyahu repeatedly argued that he was prepared to make 'painful sacrifices' including a partial pullout from the West Bank, but said Israel would retain control of the larger Jewish settlements in the area.

US President Barack Obama gave a landmark speech on Thursday 19th May in which he argued that a future Palestinian state must be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Netanyahu said Israel recognised that any Palestinian state had to be large enough to be politically and economically viable, but said a return to the 1967 borders was impossible because of the large number of Israelis now living in the territory beyond them.

“Israel will be generous on the size of the Palestinian state, but will be very firm on where we put the border with it,” he said.

He also reasserted Israel's claim to the West Bank, called Judea and Samaria in Israel. "In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers," he said.

"We're not the British in India. We're not the Belgians in [the] Congo. This is the land of our forefathers.”

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed deep outrage over Netanyahu's speech, and said he was determined to approach the UN General Assembly in September, looking for state recognition, despite the fact that Obama had rejected it.

Abbas was quoted in Xinhua as saying a Palestinian state must have borders with Jordan, Egypt and Israel and said he was sticking with the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal signed earlier this month, which Netanyahu had encouraged him to “tear up”.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the speech proved Israel was not interested in peace.

"He dictated that Jerusalem will be undivided, that refugees cannot return, that his army will remain on the borders, that his settlements will be expanded and kept, that he wants Palestine to be demilitarised," Erekat said, according to the BBC.

Netanyahu spoke on the touchy issue of the right of return, and said that Palestinians will not get a right of return to Israel. Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and across the Palestinian diaspora want to be able to return to the homes they left in Israel.

According to the New York Times, Israeli officials say a flood of returnees would mean more Arabs than Jews in Israel, thereby compromising its identity as a Jewish nation.

Netanyahu also refused to budge on the issue of Jewish settlements, saying new boundaries would have to incorporate the large settlement areas in the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

He insisted that any peace deal would have to include an Israeli Army presence along the Jordan River.

Sources: BBC News, Guardian, New York Times, Xinhua

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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