President Obama said the future state of Palestine should be based on the pre-1967 border with mutually agreed land swaps with Israel.
In his address Thursday afternoon on U.S. policy in the Middle East, Obama told an audience at the State Department that the borders of a “sovereign, nonmilitarized” Palestinian state “should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Negotiations should focus first on territory and security, and then the difficult issues of the status of Jerusalem and what to do about the rights of Palestinian refugees can be broached, Obama said.
The speech, which focused mostly on the Arab democracy movements in the Arab world, marked the first time a U.S. president formally declared that the pre-Six Day War borders should form the basis of negotiations. In that war, Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and Golan Heights from surrounding Arab countries. While Israel subsequently withdrew from the Sinai and Gaza, it annexed the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem and kept the West Bank in limbo.
“Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table,” Obama said, noting the new unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, a group foresworn to Israel’s destruction.
“How can one negotiate with a party that shows itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” Obama said. “In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.”
The U.S. president did not announce a specific initiative to resume talks between the two sides.
Obama also said that the Palestinians’ plan to declare statehood at the U.N. General Assembly this September will not result in a state.
“For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure,” Obama said. “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.”
He suggested both sides bore blame for the ongoing conflict, saying, “My administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks.”
While affirming America’s commitment to Israel’s security and its vision as a Jewish democracy, Obama cautioned, “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”
Ultimately, the president said, making peace is up to the parties.
“No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away,” he said. “But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”