Gavin Rabinowitz, AFP
Last updated: 22 May, 2011

Netanyahu ‘values’ Obama call for peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he shared President Barack Obama’s vision for peace in remarks appeared aimed at defusing a deepening row with the US leader.

“I am partner to the president’s desire to foster peace and I value his efforts in the past and the present to achieve this goal,” said Netanyahu, reacting to Obama’s speech to the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

“I am determined to work together with President Obama to find ways to renew the peace negotiations. Peace is crucial for all of us.”

Speaking to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama forcefully defended his call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on their pre-1967 frontiers, suggesting critics had misrepresented his policy.

In a dramatic Oval Office appearance on Friday, Netanyahu emphatically rejected the call, saying those borders would make Israel militarily indefensible and he then proceeded to lecture the American president.

This time, Netanyahu made no mention of the 1967 borders. Instead, his office said: “Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the words of President Obama at AIPAC.”

Friday’s meeting was seen as another in the increasingly fraught relationship by the two leaders that some critics in Israel said could imperil ties between Israel and its closest ally, the United States.

In an apparent bid to soften some of his outspoken criticism, Netanyahu issued a statement ahead of the AIPAC conference, saying that “the disagreement has been blown way out of proportion,” and that “it is true we have some differences of opinions, but they are differences among friends.”

Israeli officials singled out several points in Sunday’s speech that pleased them and were more explicit than Obama’s earlier remarks.

Obama said the border would be modified through negotiations and take into account “new demographic realities,” which for Israel means being able to keep the large settlement blocs in the West Bank.

These blocs are mostly close to the 1967 lines and are home to the majority of the settlers, meaning Israel would only have to evacuate more isolated settlements deeper in the occupied territory under any peace deal.

And Obama also spelled out the conditions that Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, must meet before they will deal with the Islamist group.

“We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements,” Obama said.

The officials also expressed satisfaction with Obama’s commitment to Israel’s defence and containing Israel’s arch-foe Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu is to speak to AIPAC Monday before addressing Congress on Tuesday.