Obama clarifies Thursday remarks in AIPAC speech

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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In a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference Sunday in Washington, President Barack Obama did not dial back his statement Thursday that an Israeli-Palestinian peace process should begin with a return to 1967 borders, but said that his statement had been misrepresented.

Obama said that “there was nothing particularly original in my proposal” of a return to 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations. “This basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations,” Obama said.

“My reference to the 1967 lines — with mutually agreed swaps — that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now,” he said. “And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means.”

“By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967…It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides,” he explained.

“If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance,” he said, of the critical commentary over his Thursday remarks. “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”

Obama also addressed the idea that there were significant disagreements between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a press conference Friday in which Netanyahu publicly rebuked the president’s suggestion on the 1967 borders.

“Even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will,” Obama said, “the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.”

He added later, “I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another.”

Netanyahu made a similar remark on Sunday, Reuters reported, saying that, “The reports of a disagreement have been blown way out of proportion.”

The crowd appeared to receive the speech well. One lone man booed the president when discussion of his statement on borders came up. Most people were silent throughout his discussion of Thursday’s comments, before finally bursting out into a round of applause when he affirmed that the U.S. would not permit the United Nations to affirm Palestinian statehood in September.