20
May

Obama Sees ’67 Borders as Starting Point for Peace Deal

By Mark Landler & Steven Lee Myers

President Obama spoke about Middle East policy at the State Department on Thursday.

President Obama, seeking to capture a moment of epochal change in the Arab world, began a new effort on Thursday to break the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, setting out a new starting point for negotiations on the region’s most intractable problem.

A day before the arrival in Washington of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Mr. Obama declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — adjusted to some degree to account for Israeli settlements in the West Bank — should be the basis of a deal. While the 1967 borders have long been viewed as the foundation for a peace agreement, Mr. Obama’s formula of land swaps to compensate for disputed territory created a new benchmark for a diplomatic solution.

Mr. Obama’s statement represented a subtle, but significant shift, in American policy. And it thrust him back into the region’s most nettlesome dispute at a time when conditions would seem to make reaching a deal especially difficult.

The Israeli government immediately protested, saying that for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders would leave it “indefensible.” Mr. Netanyahu held an angry phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday before the speech, officials said, in which he demanded that the president’s reference to 1967 borders be cut.

Israeli officials continued to lobby the administration until right before Mr. Obama arrived at the State Department for the address. White House officials said he did not alter anything under Israeli pressure, though the president made changes in the text that delayed his appearance by 35 minutes.

Mr. Obama’s reference to Israel’s borders came toward the end of a somber, 45-minute address that sought to articulate an overarching framework for the disparate American responses to the Arab Spring, which has taken a dark turn as the euphoria of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt has given way to violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria, a civil war in Libya and political stalemate in Yemen. Read more…

Read the transcript of President Obama’s speech on the Middle East & North Africa

Watch the video

Mark Landler and Steven Lee Myers are both White House correspondents for The New York Times.

As published in www.nytimes.com on May 19, 2011 (a version of this article appeared in print on May 20, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Obama Seeks End to the Stalemate on Mideast Talks). 

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