Talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama went better than planned on Friday, but certain differences remained between the two leaders and their visions for Palestinian-Israeli peace.
The two met just a day after Obama delivered a speech on the United States' Middle East policy in which he called for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians based on 1967 borders. Netanyahu rejected this, saying that such borders are "indefensible".
After a closed door meeting in the Oval Office that last more than an hour and a half, Obama and Netanyahu delivered comments to the press, and while both cited certain points of contention, it was made clear that these were "differences between friends".
Netanyahu was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, said one of his aides, adding the talk went better than he had anticipated. He reiterated his rejection of 1967 borders, saying it was important that he make this clear to Obama in their talks. He added that the international expectation that Israel return to 1967 borders is an obstacle to peace.
Netanyahu and Obama meet at White House
The prime minister's aide said talks with Obama were open, honest and friendly. He clarified that the differences between Netanyahu and the U.S. president were a matter of policy, were not personal, saying Israel cannot absorb Palestinian refugees, and will not negotiate with Hamas.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also was cautiously optimistic about Netanyahu and Obama's meeting, issuing a statement shortly after the Israeli and American leaders spoke with the press.
The press secretary said that the length of the one-on-one talk between Obama and Netanyahu, more than twice the time expected, was a positive sign, and "an indication of just how productive and constructive this meeting was".
When pressed about the disagreement between Obama and Netanyahu regarding 1967 borders, an issue Netanyahu addressed on Friday and the U.S. president did not, Carney said that "what the president said yesterday was quite clear."
He added that the U.S. president said "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."
Carney said that Obama recognizes the security issue for Israel, and that the United States recognizes Israel's right to self defense. He added that the U.S. will work to ensure security provisions that are "robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security".
Carney dispelled the notion that Netanyahu was "mad" at Obama for calling for a deal based on 1967 borders, saying "I'm not sure that I accept that he was mad," adding "I think they had an excellent meeting."
The U.S. press secretary reflected on Netanyahu's objection that 1967 borers are "indefensible", clarifying that this is an issue of security.
"I think the prime minister made very clear, and the president did, that they don't agree on every issue, but that they are both committed to working together," he added.
Carney reiterated that while the United States will continue to push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it will keep in mind "Israel's security, which the United States remains committed to profoundly."
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