Obama Seeks To Reassure AIPAC on Basis for Peace

Holds Firm on 1967 Borders With Mutually Agreed Land Swaps

Holding Firm: President Obama addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday in Washington. There he sought to reassure the pro-Israel community after his recent endorsement of the 1967 borders as the basis for an Israeli – Palestinian peace agreement.
getty images
Holding Firm: President Obama addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday in Washington. There he sought to reassure the pro-Israel community after his recent endorsement of the 1967 borders as the basis for an Israeli – Palestinian peace agreement.

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 22, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

After causing a stir by endorsing the 1967 borders as the basis for an Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement, President Obama on Sunday sought to reassure the pro-Israel community about his views regarding the future borders.

In a speech, which at times received lengthy applause and at other times was met with silence, Obama provided clarifications to his May 19 policy statement about the 1967 borders, making clear that he believes the final line should be a result of negotiations that take into considerations the changed realities on the ground and Israel’s security needs.

Obama acknowledged that by setting criteria for solving territorial disputes between Israel and the Palestinians he was stepping into a political minefield, but stressed the statement was necessary. “I know that stating these principles — on the issues of territory and security — generated some controversy over the past few days. I was not entirely surprised,” Obama told the audience of about 10,000 at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a president preparing for re-election, is to avoid any controversy. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination.”

The president argued that his message had been “misrepresented” since “there was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations.”

Obama did not retract his endorsement of the 1967 borders nor did he soften his message regarding the urgency of moving toward a settlement of the conflict. But he did expand on the parameters of the border issue, providing Israel and its supporters in the U.S. with details that, to a certain extent, address concerns raised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his May 20 meeting with Obama.

“Let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means,” Obama told the crowd at the Washington Convention Center. “By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”

Obama’s recognition of “new demographics” echoes a promise given by former president George W. Bush in 2004 to then Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, which stated America’s support for keeping Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank as part of a land swap agreement with Palestinians.

The audience, made up of AIPAC delegates from across the nation as well as many student activists, responded politely, but with little enthusiasm, to Obama’s explanation of his 1967 remarks. But when speaking of America’s friendship with Israel and when pointing out his administration’s demands from the Palestinian side, the president won repeated standing ovations. Obama made clear he will work to block a Palestinian drive for statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly in September and sharpened his message opposing the Palestinian national unity government that includes Hamas. “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. 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.

In his address, Obama sought not only to reassure the pro-Israel community but also to quell the political thunderstorm created by his May 19 speech. Republican politicians had accused Obama of abandoning Israel, and several Jewish Democratic lawmakers also issued statements arguing the president’s endorsement of the 1967 lines was a mistake.

David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said he believed Obama’s speech at AIPAC provided adequate answers to his critics. “He helped himself tremendously,” Harris said. The Democratic House minority whip, Steny Hoyer, demonstrated the distance Democrats wished to keep from the president in a speech that preceded Obama’s address to the lobby. Hoyer, to the cheers of the AIPAC crowd, said Israel’s borders “must be defensible” a statement seen as referring to Netanyahu’s claim that the Obama definition of future borders leaves Israel “indefensible.”

New York Democrat Eliot Engel, a hawk on issues relating to Israel, told the Forward after Obama’s speech that he still would like to see the president avoid airing differences with Israel in public. “The dirty laundry should be discussed privately between the leaders,” Engel said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.