Washington (CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama called for Israel to give up land to the Palestinians, redrawing the country’s borders to where they were prior to the 1967 Six Day War. This would require Israel to potentially give up the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, or at least major portions of those lands.
“We believe 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,” said Obama in a major speech at the U.S. State Department on Thursday. “The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
“So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel,” he said. “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”
A return to the 1967 borders has long been the demand of Palestinians. Obama’s policy comes after the Fatah, the leading political party among Palestinians, reached a unity agreement with the terrorist organization Hamas (“Islamic Resistance Movement”), which governs the Gaza Strip. In his speech, Obama acknowledged that border negotiations would not be easy.
“In particular, 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?” said Obama. “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.”
Israel’s borders today are set based upon its victory in the Six Day War against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which occurred in June 1967. As a result of that war, Israel expanded its borders to include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.
In today’s speech, Obama also said, “Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security.
“The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state,” Obama said. “The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.”
Obama also affirmed that the United States is still an ally of Israel.
“As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values,” Obama said. “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”
Knesset members on the political Right called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reject the Obama proposal.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Likud Party member Danny Dannon said, “Barack Hussein Obama adopted the staged plan for Israel's destruction of Yasser Arafat, and he is trying to force it on our prime minister. All that was new in the speech was that he called for Israel to return to 1967 borders without solving the crisis. Netanyahu has only one option: To tell Obama forget about it.”
Obama’s policy also prompted opposition in the United States.
The speech was damaging to the relationship between the United States and Israel, said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest legal foundation.
“It’s extremely troubling that President Obama would side with the Palestinian Authority in an effort to jump-start peace talks in the Middle East,” Sekulow said in a written statement. “President Obama is not the negotiator-in-chief for the Middle East and to make sweeping demands and characterizations not only hurts the peace process, but damages U.S.-Israeli relations.
“It’s troubling that the President called Israel’s legitimate West Bank settlements an ‘occupation’ -- and by calling for a return to the 1967 borders, he is calling for a divided Jerusalem,” Sekulow said. “By endorsing the ‘unity government’ of the Palestinian Authority, he has rewarded Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the elimination of the Jews.
“For decades, Israel has been our most important ally in the region. Sadly, with the president’s remarks, and decision to side with Palestinian Authority, it appears he no longer believes that is the case,” Sekulow added.
Throughout most of the speech, Obama talked about the so-called “Arab Spring,” in which citizens in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and other countries in the Middle East sought to buck dictators and push for democratic reforms.
“If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States,” he said to leaders in the region.
But Obama also talked about the recent achievement in killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, contrasting those ideas with the movement taking place today.
“We have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden,” Obama said. “Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism. His agenda focused on what he could destroy, not what he could build.”
The president added, “Through the moral force of non-violence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.”
In a recording before his death, Osama bin Laden praised the protests, the Associated Press reported.
“The winds of change will spread through the entire Islamic world, God willing,” bin Laden said in the 12-minute audio message. “The youth need to make necessary preparations and not act without consulting the experience of the honest ones and those who are far from half-solutions and compromises with the oppressors.”
The president said reform for the region must mean more free trade, less corruption and more rights for women. He also stressed this would mean freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
“Real reform will not come at the ballot box alone,” Obama said. “Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard, whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger. In the 21st century, information is power; the truth cannot be hidden; and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.”
He also said, “tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion,” recalling that in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, demonstrators shouted “Muslims, Christians, we are one.”
“In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation,” Obama said. “And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.”
Obama said that Americans should welcome the transformation in the Middle East, even comparing it to upheavals in U.S. history.
“For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar,” Obama said. “Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union.