Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has again ruled out accepting a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1967 borders.
Addressing a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committtee (AIPAC) in Washington late on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel could not return to the “indefensible” 1967 borders – something that the US president Barack Obama had suggested a few days earlier.
He said “this conflict has raged for nearly a century because the Palestinians refuse to end it. They refuse to accept the Jewish state. This is what this conflict has always been about.”
“Peace with Palestinians must leave Israel with security, therefore Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines,” he said.
Yasser Abed Rabboh, secretary-general of the PLO executive committee, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech “was further evidence that Netanyahu is not interested in initiating any serious political process”.
“His aim is to buy time and to use forces inside the US Congress to hinder the process at large,” he said.
“We welcome Obama’s speech and particularly his affirmation of the 1967 lines, and hope this will turn into a UN resolution and a shared stance by the [Middle East] Quartet,” he said, in reference to the US president’s speech on the Middle East on Thursday.
Netanyahu said he would set forth his view of a future Middle East peace in an address to the US Congress on Tuesday, stating again that Israel would never return to its old borders.
“I will outline a vision for a secure Israeli-Palestinian peace … I intend to speak the unvarnished truth. Now, more than ever, what we need is clarity and events in our region are finally opening people’s eyes on the simple truth.
“People in the region are thinking about freedom, yearning for freedom and opportunity, so it’s time to stop blaming Israel for all of the region’s problems.”
Israel and Palestinian peace is “not a panacea for endemic problems of the Middle East. What will change this is one word: democracy, real genuine democracy,” he said.
In an address disrupted several times by protesters, the Israeli prime minister condemned the Palestinian group Hamas.
“Imagine keeping a young soldier locked in a dark dungeon for five years without a single visit of the Red Cross,” Netanyahu said, referring to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006.
“I think the entire civilised community should join Israel, America and all of us in a simple demand: release Gilad Shalit,” he said, describing the soldier’s capture as an “outrageous crime”.
Reporting from Gaza City, Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston noted that while Hamas would maintain its position of refusing to recognise Israel, the party had previously stated that it would accept a return to the 1967 borders.
“While Hamas may not directly come out and recognise the state of Israel, by saying that it recognises a Palestinian state within the ’67 borders, it is implicitly recognising the state of Israel,” she said.
Johnston added that the Obama administration’s public position had been hardening towards Hamas, but that that was unsurprising.
Obama drew Israeli anger on Thursday by saying that a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured those areas and East Jerusalem.
On Sunday, Obama presented that blueprint again, in his own address to AIPAC. But he seemed to ease Israeli anger somewhat when he made clear Israel would likely be able to negotiate keeping some settlements as part of land swaps in any final deal with the Palestinians.
“It does beg the question why Netanyahu said that Israel cannot go back to the 1967 line because
– as Obama explained on Sunday to the delegates – it’s not a matter of saying those would be the final borders between a Palestinian state and Israel; he simply said it would be the starting point,” Rosalind Jordan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the AIPAC conference, said.
“When we spoke to delegates after the president’s speech they said that they understood what he was aiming for, and that they thought it was a worthwhile goal,” she said.
Peace talks are frozen, largely over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Neither Obama nor Netanyahu have offered a concrete plan to try to revive them.