WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday bluntly rejected President Barack Obama’s vision for the borders of a future Palestinian state, opening up one of the deepest divides in years between Washington and the Jewish state.
In an unusually sharp rebuke to Israel’s closest ally, Netanyahu told Obama his endorsement of a long-standing Palestinian demand to go back to Israel’s 1967 boundaries – meaning big concessions of occupied land – would leave Israel “indefensible.”
“Peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle East reality,” an unsmiling Netanyahu said as Obama listened intently beside him in the Oval Office.
He insisted that Israel was willing to make compromises for peace, but made clear he had major differences with Washington over how to advance the long-stalled peace process.
Netanyahu’s firm resistance now raises the question of how hard Obama will push for concessions he is unlikely to get, and whether the peace vision he laid out Thursday will ever get off the ground.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Obama said he reiterated to Netanyahu the peace “principles” he offered Thursday in a policy speech on Middle East political upheaval.
The goal, he said, “has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, but continuous security with a completely functioning and effective Palestinian state.”
But Netanyahu, who heads a right-leaning, pro-settler coalition, said, “We can’t go back to those indefensible lines.”
The brewing crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations dimmed even further the prospect for resuming peace talks that collapsed late last year when Palestinians walked away in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
“There is a feeling that Washington does not understand the reality, doesn’t understand what we face,” an official on board the plane taking Netanyahu to Washington told reporters.
Obama’s first outright declaration of his stance on the contested issue of borders could help ease doubts in the Arab world about his commitment to acting as an even-handed broker.
But in line with Netanyahu’s stance, Obama voiced opposition to a Palestinian plan to seek U.N. recognition of statehood in September in the absence of renewed peace talks.