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US takes EU line on Israel borders

20.05.11 @ 09:29

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - US President Barack Obama has said future Israeli-Palestinian borders should be based on lines established before the 1967 war, bringing US policy closer in line with the EU position on the conflict.

Obama unveiled the new US policy at a speech in the state department in Washington on Thursday (19 May).

"We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states," he said.

The US had in the past left open the question of final borders until the end-phase of Israeli-Palestinian talks, giving Israel the opportunity to keep on building settlements on occupied Palestinian land even as negotiations went on.

The new US position is in line with agreed EU policy, as formally stated by European foreign ministers in December. "The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. This could include agreed territorial swaps," the EU side said.

Israeli negotiators believe that a priori support for 1967 borders - also a key Palestinian demand - removes incentives for the Palestinians to negotiate on a host of issues.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a written reaction on Thursday said: "The 1967 lines are both indefensible and would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines ... The defence of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan river."

Israel also voiced concern that Obama said nothing on 'the right of return.'

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians want to take back land lost since the 1940s in what is today Israel in a development that would pose existential questions for the country as a 'Jewish state.'

On the pro-Israeli side, Obama indicated the US will work against Palestinian plans to seek full UN recognition of its statehood later this year.

"Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state," the US leader said. Palestinian diplomats recently told EUobserver that around 10 EU countries back the September initiative, including Greece, Ireland, France, Spain and Sweden.

Obama also took the pro-Israeli line on the new Fatah-Hamas unity government.

"How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?" he asked, referring to Hamas' 1980s-era charter, which calls for the "obliteration" of Israel. The EU for its part has opted to give the unity government a chance, stepping up financial aid and saying it should be judged by future actions not past words.

Obama did not take the EU and Palestinian position that East Jerusalem should be shared between the two parties to the conflict, saying the sensitive question is better left for later down the line.

He placed strong emphasis on Israeli rather than Palestinian "security" and "rights."

And he did not include the Palestinian population under occupation and in exile in his list of Arab spring peoples seeking "dignity" and "self-determination", mentioning instead Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.