Reacting to Obama’s speech, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a full withdrawal from the West Bank, saying the 1967 lines were “indefensible” and would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel. Netanyahu rejects any pullout from east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu heads to the White House on Friday and said he would seek clarifications.
Behind the rhetoric, though, was the possibility of finding common ground. Obama said he would support agreed-upon territorial swaps between the Israel and the Palestinians, leaving the door open for Israel to retain major West Bank settlements, where the vast majority of its nearly 300,000 Jewish settlers live.
Netanyahu said he would urge Obama to endorse a 2004 American commitment, made by then President George W. Bush, to Israel. In a letter at the time, Bush said a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines was “unrealistic” and a future peace agreement would have to recognize “new realities on the ground.”
There’s nothing in the Bush-Sharon Letter that’s inconsistent with Obama’s remarks today, but the reassurances to Israel are much more specific than anything the Obama administration has ever embraced. Obama has a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee scheduled for Wednesday; how close he comes to endorsing those reassurances will be an important measure of the state of American-Israeli relations.