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Obama and Israel Differ Over Six-Day War Border Plan

The Essentials of President's May 19, 2011, Speech


Barack Obama and Israel differ over the president's plan to base a settlement with Palestine along pre-Six-Day War borders. President Obama's May 19, 2011, Middle East Policy speech dealt with many aspects of American policy in the region, but its sections regarding Israel and Palestine drew the most attention. Here is a digest of the speech's main points regarding the Jewish state.

  • Peace is possible between Palestinians and Israel

At the time of the speech, peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel had stalled. Obama said, however, that the events of the "Arab Spring" made the "drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever."

  • Palestine Must Recognize Israel's Right To Exist

Obama said the Palestinian Authority could not try to "isolate" Israel politically in the United Nations and it could not deny Israel's right to exist.

  • Terror Will Not Work

Hamas, one of two major parties in the Palestinian Authority, is linked to terror against Israel. "Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror," said Obama.

  • The "Status Quo Is Unsustainable"

Obama noted that the "a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River," in the area known as the West Bank, which Israel has occupied as a defensive buffer zone since the Six-Day War against Arab nations in 1967. That population growth, plus the social networking technology that made "Arab Spring" possible elsewhere in the Middle East, would make it "harder for Israel to defend itself [by simply occupying territory]."

Speaking of Israeli/Palestinian conflicts that have occurred sporadically since Israel's creation in 1948, Obama said, "the international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome."

  • Peace Will Involve Both A Jewish State and a Palestinian State

"What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows," said Obama. "A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people."

  • Pre-Six-Day War Borders Should Be Basis Of Permanent State Borders

This part of Obama's speech caused the most controversy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the plan would put Israel in an "indefensible" position, and many of Obama's political opponents claimed he had abandoned Israel.

Key to Obama's remarks, however, was the idea of "mutually agreed swaps" of land between Israel and Palestine. The pre-war borders would be just a starting place for border modifications. The plan is not far removed from that espoused by other American presidents.

  • Israel Must Be Secure

"Every state has the right to self-defense," said Obama, "and Israel must be able to defend itself -- by itself -- against any threat."

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