Hugh Naylor
The National
May 20, 2011 - 12:00am

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is coming under pressure to agree to the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiating a Palestinian state ahead of his address to the US Congress next week.

Critics and even some allies in Mr Netanyahu's right-wing government have strongly suggested he offer the compromise in the hope of reviving Middle East peace talks. That pressure received a significant boost by the US president, Barack Obama, who endorsed yesterday the idea of brokering a two-state solution with the 1967 lines as the starting point.

"Without accepting the principle of 1967, Netanyahu's other principles will remain full of holes," Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, wrote yesterday.

If the Israeli leader does not put that issue on the table during his Washington visit, he wrote, the "Palestinians will mock" his other demands and he would effectively become "an unimportant prime minister who left no lasting mark".

Palestinian negotiators have strongly implied a willingness to return to talks, and possibly suspend their bid to be recognised as a state in return. A return to talks would only come, however, if the Israeli leader agreed to the 1967 border.

After Mr Netanyahu refused to extend a slowdown on settlement construction last September, they suspended their participation in negotiations and began lobbying the United Nations for recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Saeb Erekat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator, said on Sunday: "I want to hear the numbers 1-9-6-7 from Netanyahu," adding that until then, "we're not going to waste our time".

The Middle East peace quartet - consisting of the US, EU, Russia and the UN - is reportedly also considering calling for the 1967 borders as a precondition for future talks. So, too, is Barack Obama. The group is poised to adopt it following Mr Obama's endorsement of the idea.

Israel captured the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem - lands that Palestinians want for their future state - during the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967 and filled them with Jewish settlements.

While he formally accepted the concept of a Palestinian state in 2009, the Israeli leader has opposed agreeing to the 1967 lines as a frame of reference for negotiations. This would probably entail dividing East Jerusalem with the Palestinians and potentially uprooting hundreds of thousands of West Bank settlers. Mr Netanyahu has been loath to enact either of these measures, possibly out of fear that his pro-settler government would collapse if he did.

One of Mr Netanyahu's fiercest critics, the Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, wrote yesterday that the Israeli leader's apparent dithering on the issue had increased criticism not only of Israel's occupation of territories it captured in 1967 but also the legitimacy of its recognised borders. He used as an example this year's annual Nakba day demonstrations that Palestinians use to denounce Israel's creation. Sunday's event was punctuated by a surge in Palestinian frustration, deadly violence by Israeli soldiers and the unusual scenes of hundreds of Palestinian refugees storming into the country from Syria.

"Anyone who didn't want 1967 is now getting 1947. Anyone who didn't want to evacuate the settlement of Ariel will now be forced to discuss Carmiel," he wrote, comparing the legitimacy of a West Bank settlement to a community within Israel's recognised borders.

Mr Netanyahu did offer some concessions during an address to the Knesset, or parliament, on Monday that was seen as a preview of his upcoming Washington visit. He implied that he was prepared to dismantle most of Israel's Jewish communities in the West Bank except for the so-called settlement blocs.

His defence minister, Ehud Barak, called for even more "daring" concessions. Mr Barak, who as prime minister in 2000 was prepared to divide Jerusalem with the former Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, and dismantle West Bank settlements, suggested in an interview with the Los Angeles Times yesterday that failure to do so could have dangerous consequences. "It's clear to me that Israel at this junction should act and not be paralysed by the uncertainties, low visibility, volcanic eruptions and historical earthquake around us," Mr Barak told the US newspaper in reference to the Arab Spring rebellions sweeping neighbouring countries.

"We need to put [something] on the table, whether behind closed doors to the president or in public. We need to be ready to move toward a daring proposal that will include the readiness to deliver an answer to all the core issues."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017