May 20, 2011

Obama and Netanyahu set for difficult meeting

by Jan Harris

US President Barack Obama is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House today, in what is likely to be difficult encounter.

The meeting was convened for the two leaders to discuss “the full range of issues of mutual interest to the United States and Israel” but in his speech yesterday on US policy in the Middle East, President Obama signalled a firmer stance by the US towards Israel.

The President expressed support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, an idea which Mr Netanyahu called “indefensible.”

Immediately before embarking on his flight to Washington to meet the President, Mr Netanyahu said that he appreciated Mr. Obama’s commitment to peace but that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of American commitments made to Israel in 2004 which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress.”

These commitments were made in letter from President George W. Bush to prime minister Ariel Sharon which said that any peace agreement would “recognise the changed realities on the ground”.

This was understood to mean that the 1967 borders, which were established by the Six Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza between June 5th and June 10th of that year, would remain in place.

At that time Israel believed it was at risk of a joint attack by Syria, Jordan and Egypt, so launched a successful military effort to counter this perceived threat.

In the campaign Israel removed Jordanian forces from the West Bank, an area occupied by 600,000 Arabs, some of whom subsequently formed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) after finding themselves under Israeli administration.

Israel also captured the Golan Heights in Syria, a military stronghold used by Syrian troops to shoot at Israeli civilians in the Huleh Valley, and moved 30 miles into Syria as a result of the campaign.

Israel is a long-term strategic ally of the US but by asking Israel to give up these territories President Obama is signalling that US attitudes towards the country are changing.

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