Three Things That Irked Bibi About Obama’s Speech

May 20, 2011 12:01pm

Sources tell ABC News that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s issue with President Obama invoking the 1967 borders as a starting off point for negotiations isn’t so much the notion itself, but rather the idea that his position essentially gives the Palestinians an achievement at the bargaining table without having conceded anything in return.

In other words, Netanyahu is well aware that in any peace agreement, Israel will likely have to agree to what President Obama stated yesterday: “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

But Netanyahu wanted to agree to that at the negotiating table with the Palestinians – exacting a concession from the Palestinians in return. Now the Palestinians will be able to come to any future negotiation with those borders as the “American position.”

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to “the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps” but that is not the same thing as the 1967 lines baseline being the public US position.

Sources also say that Prime Minister Netanyahu would have liked the president to have been clearer in his language on future status of refugees and on steps the Palestinians need to take in their new Fatah-Hamas reconciled composition.

President Obama referred to “two wrenching and emotional issues (that) will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.” As far as the Israeli government is concerned, this latter issue is a non-starter. 

Netanyahu’s office yesterday stated that the Israeli Prime Minister “expects” President Obama to reaffirm the views outlined in a 2004 letter from then-President George W. Bush to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, one key line from that letter states that “(i)t seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”

Netanyahu views President Obama’s remarks yesterday to be a retreat from this position – an allowance that the refugee issue is one to be discussed.

The final issue surrounds President Obama’s assertion about the new Palestinian government featuring Fatah having reconciled with Hamas. Hamas has been designated as a “terrorist group” by the US State Department and has called for Israel’s destruction. 

President Obama said “the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel:  How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?  And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.  Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.”

Ever since Hamas won its elections in Gaza more than half a decade ago, the position of the Quartet (the US, Russia, European Union and United Nations) is that Hamas needs to commit to non-violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and agree to previous peace agreements negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Netanyahu would have liked President Obama to have at least mentioned those three key concessions, sources said.

- Jake Tapper


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