Obama, Netanyahu - Reuters - May 20, 2011
Obama and Netanyahu speak in the Oval Office, May 20, 2011 Photo by Reuters
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Prime Minister Netanyahu told U.S. President Barack Obama in his comments to the press Friday that Israel cannot go back to the "indefensible' 1967 borders, claiming they are not feasible in light of today's security and demographic reality.

The two leaders had a closed door meeting in the Oval Office before jointly talking to the press on Friday afternoon. The meeting lasted an hour-and-a-half, more than twice the time planned.

The two leaders' comments come a day after the U.S. president's Mideast policy speech called for negotiations for a two-state solution based on 1967 lines.

Obama opened the conference saying that the changes in the region such as what has happened in Egypt with the fall of Mubarak, are an opportunity for prosperity. He said that the 'Arab Spring' is a window for change, and that the United States plans to be closely involved.

He reiterated the United States' commitment to the promotion of human rights in region, expressing concern over developments in Syria, adding that he discussed with Netanyahu the steps America is taking to push Syria to make reforms.

Obama said that both the United States and Israel are deeply concerned about Iran, not only for Israel but for the entire region and the world as well. He said that the U.S. is in the process of formulating additional sanctions, adding that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.

The U.S. leader called for renewed efforts toward democratization in the Middle East, saying that the Iranian leadership is an obstacle to democratization and peace in the region.

Obama also touched on prospective peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a particularly sensitive topic in light of his comments on Thursday. He said that he and Netanyahu went over the points of the speech in depth, adding that the ultimate goal is security for Israel next to a contiguous, functioning Palestinian state.

The U.S. president conceded that there were some points of contention, but these were "differences between friends", and that Israel's security will in any event remain paramount for any ultimate agreement.

He was optimistic that it is possible to find a deal that will safeguard Israel's security as well as resolve the conflict.

Obama acknowledged that it is difficult for Israel to enter negotiations with Hamas who does not recognize Israel, and the Palestinian Authority must "answer some very serious questions" in light of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal.

The U.S. president condemned Hamas for perpetrating terror against Israel, saying this is not acceptable for the peace process. He said any deal must be based on Quartet guidelines.

Obama concluded that his meeting with Netanyahu was constructive, adding that American ties with Israel remain close and that he looks forward to a "new age of prosperity" in the coming weeks and years.

Netanyahu opened his statement reflecting on the "enduring bond of friendship" between Israel and the United States, adding that he was happy to meet with the U.S. President after hearing his speech on Middle East policy.

The prime minister said that Israel and the United States share the common goal of a democratic Middle East, thanking Obama for his commitment to Israel's security and the peace process.

Netanyahu said that he wants peace, but "a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure". He clarified that the only peace that will be durable is one that is based on reality as it stands.

The prime minister said that the Palestinians need to accept this, and that while Israel is willing to make compromises, it cannot return to the "indefensible" 1967 lines that do not take into account demographic changes that have taken place in the past decades.

Netanyahu stressed that 1967 borders would make Israel an easy target, and while 45 years ago it was possible to defend these borders, today it is not.

He echoed Obama's words of condemnation for Hamas, saying Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas and that does not recognize Israel. He recounted the terror that Hamas has perpetrated against Israel, reminding the public of the hit last month of an Israeli school bus.

Netanyahu called on the PA to choose between peace with Israel and its agreement with Hamas, adding that he hopes they will choose peace with Israel.

The prime minister addressed the issue of refugees, saying that 1948 created not only Palestinian, but Jewish refugees from Arab countries as well. He said that "tiny Israel" absorbed both Jewish and Palestinian refugees, yet the "vast Arab world" refused to take in the Palestinian refugees.

He said that the expectation that Israel absorb Palestinian refugees 63 years later is unrealistic, saying that this would destroy Israel's demographic integrity as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu said that the Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved and that it can be resolved, but only "if the Palestinians choose to do so in Palestinian state."

Netanyahu also admitted that there were "differences here and there" but that Israel and the United States are committed to work together. He hailed Obama as the leader of great American people, and himself as the leader of a much smaller people that has endured centuries of persecution.

The prime minister cautioned that Israel, who fought for centuries to obtain autonomy, does not have a margin for error because "history will not give the Jewish people another chance".

Netanyahu concluded, saying that the future of Israel falls on his shoulders in a time of great uncertainty, but he is committed to working with Obama to bring about a peace that will secure Israel's future.

He closed his remarks thanking the U.S. president, saying "in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors and give a better future for Israel and for the entire region".