Netanyahu rejects Obama's Palestine call

2011-05-20 22:49

Washington - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told President Barack Obama Friday that Israel could not accept his call to return to its "indefensible" 1967 borders to forge peace with the Palestinians.

In a dramatic Oval Office appearance after two hours of talks, which ran considerably over time, Netanyahu warned that a "peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality".

"The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts. I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities," a grim-faced Netanyahu said.

"We don't have a lot of margin for error, because Mr President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance."

Netanyahu said he would work with Obama to seek a secure peace for Israel, but also warned that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would have to choose between a new unity pact with the militant group Hamas or peace with Israel.

"I hope he makes the right choice," said Netanyahu, after aides had said before the meeting that the United States did not understand the realities on the ground facing Israel at a moment of extraordinary instability.

Throughout the Israeli leader's animated statement before the cameras, Obama watched Netanyahu impassively, from a nearby chair a few feet away, with his hand over his mouth.

Earlier, Obama had admitted that Israel and his administration had some "differences" over the way forward in the Middle East, and argued the "Arab spring" was both a moment of opportunity and peril for peacemaking.

He said that it was possible for the United States, the Palestinians and Israel to shape a deal allowing the Jewish state to secure its borders and not be vulnerable.

And he agreed with Netanyahu that "the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that's been made between Fatah and Hamas".

Obama had said on Thursday that territorial lines in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, combined with land-swaps, should be the basis for talks on a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has long opposed such a formulation, saying it would isolate major Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

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