US President Barack Obama corrected the harsh impression Israel gained from his May 19 Middle East speech in one of the most pro-Israeli addresses ever delivered by an American president. He explained to the 11,000 delegates at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee –AIPAC conference Sunday, May 22 that the final Israeli-Palestinian borders would differ from the 1967 lines because of the "mutually agreed swaps" he had also advocated.
Obama reverted to the guarantee President Bush gave Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 against a return to the indefensible 1967 boundaries, adding that demographic changes on the ground and the interests of both sides made it unrealistic and were bound to be changed in negotiations.
The US president thus addressed the cardinal objection raised insistently by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they met at the White House Friday, May 20, although Netanyahu was accused by critics at home of overstating the case. Netanyahu responded by saying he is determined to work with Obama on finding ways to renew peace talks and voiced deep appreciation for his efforts and speech.
Obama was also influenced by the heated criticism he encountered in the American media, which not only ignored the principles he set forth in his wider Middle East vision, but accused him of pandering to the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to lure him back to the table after two years.
In a speech aimed at pleasing his solidly pro-Israeli audience, Obama offered another key concession by clarifying his early comment: Last Thursday, he said the future Palestinian state would share borders with Jordan, Egypt and Israel, but did not refer to the security provisions demanded by Israel, such as a military presence on the Jordan River border. Sunday, the US President explained that the IDF withdrawal from the territory which would be assigned to the Palestinian state in peace negotiations would be graded to match the guaranteed ability of the new state and its security forces to prevent terror, arms smuggling and infiltration. Otherwise, Israel would stay on the West Bank.
debkafile's military sources stress this correction is vitally important because it comes close to Israel's on security perception.
Obama stood by his original definition of a non-militarized rather than a demilitarized Palestinian state in view of the armed force needed to fight terror. He stressed that both states must enjoy the right to self-defense.
He also repeated his earlier assertion that the status quo is unsustainable for three reasons:
1. The Palestinian population west of the Jordan River is increasing rapidly making it harder for Israel to remain a Jewish democratic state.
2. Technological advances will jeopardize Israel's presence on the West Bank. He was alluding to the pileup of long and short-range missiles in its enemies arsenals.
3. A new Arab generation is shaping the region. Therefore, Israel cannot rely on any peace treaty with one or more Arab rulers. "The world is moving too fast and is too impatient," said Obama.
At the same time, he offered Israel some important commitments:
The US will maintain Israel's qualitative military edge and has an unbreakable commitment to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. He vowed to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and oppose any effort to "chip away at Israel's legitimacy." The US opposed the Palestinian plan to ask the UNto recognize a unilaterally declared state.
Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a party dedicated to its destruction, namely Hamas, he said. Hamas must release Gilead Shalit after holding him for five long years, he said. The US will stand up against any attempt to single out Israel at the UN or any international forum.
The Israeli prime minister addresses the AIPAC conference Monday.