HAVING SET OUT his agenda to tackle the issues outstanding in the Middle East and Arab world earlier this week, US president Barack Obama was hit with a sharp rebuke by ally and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House yesterday.
The picture of the pair, taken in the Oval Office after discussions, spoke a thousand words as Netanyahu rejected any return to the pre-1967 war border lines which president Obama had advocated along with agreed land swaps in a speech delivered on Thursday.
The Washington Post reports that Netanyahu appeared to indicate that Obama holds an unrealistic view of how to achieve peace in the Middle East.
The Palestinians want to establish their state in the territories Israel has occupied since that six -day war.
Israel has refused to do so, citing amongst many other things, security concerns and the refusal by some Palestinian factions to recognise the country’s right to exist.
A two-hour meeting of Obama and Netanyahu at the White House was followed by a tense looking photocall in the Oval Office at which the divisions between the two leaders looked and sounded apparent.
“The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled without an end to occupation,” said Obama a day earlier, referring to the 1967 lines which are the areas captured by Israel – including the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – from Syria and Jordan in the war.
That premise was flat out rejected by Netanyahu as he sat next to Obama in the Oval Office and was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying:
While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines.
These lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes.
Privately officials on both sides appear to acknowledge that such a concession by Israel is not going to happen and that will do little to shift things forward.
On the Palestinian side, senior officials have told The Associated Press that negotiations with Israel have become pointless after Israel’s prime minister rejected Obama’s call to base Middle East border talks on the pre-1967 war lines.
Talks between the two have stalled since Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate with Netanyahu unless the Israeli leader froze settlement construction in the territories occupied in 1967.
Netanyahu has declined to do so, at most slowing construction in some areas for 10 months last year.
The Israeli leader has also condemned the brokering of a deal between rival Palestinian factions Fatah, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip and classified as a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.
The US has also indicated that it will not support Palestine’s bid to be internationally recognised by the United Nations in September this year.
Obama has sought to concentrate on the issues of borders and security in order to advance talks, reports the New York Times.
But any long term resolution appears unlikely at this stage.