Friday, 20 May 2011

Obama backs pre-1967 Israeli borders

Obama backed the Palestinian's position on Israeli borders

Borders took centre stage in US President Barack Obama's speech on the future of US policy in the Middle East on Thursday 19th May.

Speaking to the State Department, Obama said a future Palestinian state must be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
In the 1967 war, also known as the 6-Day War, Israel took effective control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
While many analysts have long said that the pre-war borders would be the foundation for any peace agreement, having a US President say so is hugely significant, and marks a subtle change in the American position.

Obama noted, in his 45 minute speech, that Israel and the Palestinians would have to 'swap' territory on either side of the border to take into account the large Jewish settlements that have sprung up in the West Bank since 1967.

This is significant, according to the New York Times, because it means Obama endorses the Palestinian view that new Israeli settlement construction will have to be reversed, or compensated for, in any future talks over the Palestinian state.

Some 500,000 Israelis live on land in the West Bank and east Jerusalem seized during the war. Most live in government-supported settlements, but there are also hundreds of so-called 'outlying outposts', often temporary buildings in and around east Jerusalem.

Israeli settlement building has been one of the most controversial aspects of the Israeli-Palestinain conflict, and the UN deemed them illegal in Resolution 446, which was passed in 1979.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Obama's comments, saying the pre-war borders were 'indefensible'.

In a statement, he said that while he appreciated Obama's commitment to peace, “the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.”

Netanyahu and Obama are due to hold meetings in Washington on Friday 20th May. Previous meetings between the two have often not gone smoothly.

Obama's comments suggest that he expects Israel to eventually make big concessions, according to Al-Jazeera. He also, however, had tough words for the Palestinians, and said attempts to isolate Israel through the UN will fail.

The Palestinians decided to go to the UN to seek recognition of state in September 2011, after Israel resumed the construction of settlements in the West Bank last year.

The Gaza-based Islamic movement, Hamas rejected Obama's speech, saying it leant towards Israel and was part of his electoral campaigning.

Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a unity agreement in April, which marked a important shift in Palestinian affairs.

The two parties had been at odds since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Fatah then set up headquarters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, thus limiting Hamas to the Gaza Strip.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by the US, as well as many other governments, and it does not recognise Israel as a legitimate state.

Sources: Al-Jazeera, BBC News, New York Times, Press TV, Xinhua

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

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