Israeli PM Rejects Obama's Vision for Mideast

By: CBS/Associated Press
By: CBS/Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Israel's prime minister gave a cool reception to President Obama's Mideast policy speech, warning that a withdrawal from the West Bank would leave Israel vulnerable to attack and setting up what could be a tense meeting Friday at the White House.

In his speech, Obama endorsed the Palestinian position on the borders of their future state, saying it should be based on Israel's lines before the 1967 Mideast war. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the fighting, and the Palestinians claim those areas for their state

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to convene a meeting with senior officials as soon as possible to decide on the next steps, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is determined "to give President Obama's effort and that of the international community the chance they deserve," Erekat said.

The U.S., the international community and even past Israeli governments have endorsed a settlement based on the 1967 lines, but Obama was far more explicit than in the past. His position appeared to put him at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has not accepted the concept.

Reacting to Obama's speech, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a full withdrawal from the West Bank, saying the 1967 lines were "indefensible" and would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel. Netanyahu rejects any pullout from east Jerusalem.

CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports that, just to drive the point home, the Israelis announced Thursday that they plan to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The U.S. has demanded that settlement construction stop.

Netanyahu heads to the White House on Friday to seek what he called clarifications after Mr. Obama's speech. The two men will have "plenty to talk about today," notes Plante, adding that the atmosphere in the room is likely to be "chilly," at best.

Behind the rhetoric, though, was the possibility of finding common ground. Obama said he would support agreed-upon territorial swaps between the Israel and the Palestinians, leaving the door open for Israel to retain major West Bank settlements, where the vast majority of its nearly 300,000 Jewish settlers live.

Netanyahu said he would urge Obama to endorse a 2004 American commitment, made by then President George W. Bush, to Israel. In a letter at the time, Bush said a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines was "unrealistic" and a future peace agreement would have to recognize "new realities on the ground."

Israelis have interpreted Bush's commitment as U.S. support for retaining the major settlement blocs. Earlier this week, Netanyahu said Israel would have to retain the blocs as part of any future peace agreement.

But Netanyahu also wants to keep other parts of the West Bank, including a strategic section of land along the Jordanian border that he believes is vital to Israel's security. The Palestinians oppose any Israeli presence in their future state.

Netanyahu said he would reiterate his security demands at Friday's meeting.


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