President Barack Obama has wrung a big concession from Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who has essentially agreed to accept the 1967 borders as a starting point for peace talks with the Palestinians, according to an Israeli TV report on Monday.
The decision by Netanyahu represents a dramatic policy shift for the Israeli prime minister who was incensed in May when Obama publicly proposed that the 1967 borders be the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians.
Obama’s position was seen by many as a sharp departure from longstanding U.S. policy, although the White House insisted it was not.
According to a report on Israeli public radio, Netanyahu put his position in writing and expressed in that document that he is not willing to return to the borders that predate the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. He will also insist in any negotiations that demographic changes since 1967 – meaning Jewish settlement of the West Bank – be taken into account.
“We are willing in a framework of restarting the peace talks to accept a proposal that would contain elements that would be difficult for Israel and we would find very difficult to endorse,” an anonymous Israeli official told the AP.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have gone nowhere since Obama took office and the president and Netanyahu are widely reported to have a frosty relationship.
The White House last night had no comment on the report.
By accepting the outlines of Obama’s framework, Netanyahu is endorsing a process that would involve Israel handing over some lands inside its side of the ’67 border in exchange for keeping some territory on the West Bank.
According to a report on Israeli public radio, Netanyahu put his position in writing – expressing in a document that he is not willing to return to the borders that predate the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and will insist that demographic changes – meaning Jewish settlement of the West Bank – since then be taken into account.
When questioned by Agence France Presse, a senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity, confirmed that “Israel is ready to be flexible regarding efforts to resume a direct dialogue with the Palestinians.”
The official added that “Israel did not dismiss the American proposals aimed at establishing the future borders” of a Palestinian state.
The Obama administration and the Palestinians have in the past called on Israel to halt settlement construction activity in the West Bank in order to facilitate peace talks, and there are no reports that Netanyahu’s agreement to negotiate on the basis of the ’67 borders includes a pledge to pause construction.
As peace talks have broken down in recent months, Palestinians have been pursuing a controversial effort to be formally recognized by the U.N., a move that is widely expected to further set back peace talks and is opposed by the United States.
The current peace process has been hampered by Netanyahu’s unwillingness to halt settlement activity in the West Bank, intransigence which has contributed tensions between the U.S. and Israel.
On the Palestinian side, a reconciliation agreement between Fatah, the main political party, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip and is considered a terror group by the U.S., has thrown a roadblock in front of further discussions between the Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas has consistently called for Israel’s destruction, which is why Israel doesn’t want to participate in negotiations with them.