A unilateral United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian would be a meaningless empty gesture, U.S. President Barack Obama told the BBC on Sunday, adding that Hamas and Fatah must consolidate to form a clear stance on Israel before peace talks could resume.
Obama's comments came amid a whirlwind of responses to the U.S. President's Mideast policy speech, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voicing his objection to Obama's support of a Palestinian state within 1967 lines.
On Sunday, however, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel would have to accept Obama's speech, including an acceptance of 1967 borders as a starting point for talks.
While Obama, speaking to the BBC later Sunday, reaffirmed his commitment to the 1967 borders as a peace-talks guideline, he warned the Palestinian against appealing to the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state, urging the future Fatah-Hamas unity cabinet to make a decision on their stance toward peace talks with Israel.
"They've got to make a decision, first of all, in what is the official position of a unified Palestinian authority about how they're dealing with Israel," Obama said, adding that "if they can't get past that barrier, it's going to be very hard for a negotiation to take place. I also believe that the notion that you can solve this problem in the United Nations is simply unrealistic."
The U.S. president said that he had already told Palestinian officials that "whatever happens in the United Nations, you are going to have to talk to the Israelis if you are going to have a state in which your people have self-determination, adding: "You are not going to be able to do an end run around the Israelis."
"And so I think that, you know, whatever efforts they mount in the United Nations will be symbolic, he said, adding that the world has "seen a lot of these sort of symbolic efforts before. They're not something that the United States is going to be particularly sympathetic towards, simply because we think it avoids the real problems with that have to be resolved between the two parties."
The U.S. president also reiterated his support of the 1967 borders functioning as a negotiations starting point, adding that "the truth is that we were stating what I think most observers of the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recognize as the obvious - which is that if you're going to have any kind of peace, you're going to have two states side by side."
"You're going to have two states. And the basis for negotiations will involve looking at the 1967 border, recognizing that conditions on the ground have changed, and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides. That's on the one hand," he said adding: "On the other hand, and this was an equally important part of the speech, Israel's going to have to feel confident about its security on the West Bank."
"And that the security element is going to be important to the Israelis. They will not be able to move forward unless they feel that they themselves can defend their territory, particularly given what they've seen happen in Gaza, and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah," he added.
"So," Obama said, "our argument is let's get started on a conversation about territory and about security. That doesn't resolve all the issues. You still end up having the problem of Jerusalem, and you still end up having the problem of refugees."
"But if we make progress on what two states would look like, and the, a, reality sets in among the parties this is how it's going to end up, then it becomes easier for both sides to make difficult concessions to resolve those two other issues," he said.
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