At the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper thwarted an announcement Friday by the G-8 countries that would have supported U.S. President Barack Obama's statement that talks between the Palestinians and Israel should be based on the 1967 borders with exchanges of territory.
The G-8 countries - the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada - met in France on Thursday and Friday to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
Obama presented his Middle East policy to the G-8 as an alternative to a unilateral Palestinian move to seek support for statehood in the United Nations General Assembly in September, and to clarify to the Palestinians that the international community takes a dim view of the Palestinians' move to win statehood in the United Nations.
According to a senior government official in Jerusalem, Israel was concerned over the implications of a specific mention of support for Obama's call for negotiations based on the 1967 borders and exchanges of territory, so the prime minister's bureau and the Foreign Ministry began working on the matter as early as the middle of last week.
The Foreign Ministry instructed its envoys in the various capitals to ask that the G-8's concluding statement emphasize three things: that a Palestinian state will arise only through direct negotiations, not through a unilateral move in the United Nations; opposition to Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as long as Hamas rejects the Quartet's conditions; and opposition to a mention of the issue of 1967 borders and exchanges of territory. However, there was concern over whether inclusion of the latter issue could be prevented, the official said, because at least seven out of the eight G-8 countries supported including it.
Tuesday, after Netanyahu's speech to Congress, he telephoned Harper, who heads a rightist government under whose leadership Canada has become one of Israel's greatest allies.
The senior government official said Netanyahu told Harper that mentioning the issue of the 1967 borders in the statement, without mentioning the other issues, such as Israel as a Jewish state or opposition to the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, will be detrimental to Israeli interests and a reward to the Palestinians.
"The prime minister is in constant contact with various leaders in moving ahead the diplomatic process," Netanyahu's bureau said.
Since a decision on the statement requires consensus, Canada's efforts led to a release of the statement without reference to the 1967 borders.
The statement released expressed general support for the Obama speech, but called for the establishment of a Palestinian state through negotiations, not unilaterally, and for Hamas to accept the Quartet's conditions.
Harper said Friday that he thought the statement issued was "balanced." He also said it was important not to "cherry-pick" Obama's statement. "I think if you're going to get into other elements, obviously I would like to see reference to elements that were also in President Obama's speech. Such as, for instance, the fact that one of the states must be a Jewish state. The fact that the Palestinian state must be de-militarized."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke over the weekend with Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, and thanked him for Canada's position during the G-8 deliberations. "Canada is a true friend of Israel and with a realistic and proper view of things, it understands that the 1967 borders do not conform to Israel's security needs and with the current demographic reality," Lieberman said.
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