11:43am

Sun May 22, 2011
Politics

Obama Reiterates Comments On Israel's Borders

President Obama told America's pro-Israel lobby on Sunday that his comments last week about Israeli-Palestinian borders was a public expression of longstanding U.S. policy.

In a speech Thursday outlining overall U.S. policy toward the Middle East, Obama argued that Palestinian-Israeli peace talks should begin with Israel's 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps. Those remarks rankled many of Israel's staunchest supporters.

As one speaker put it on Sunday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is "the home of America's pro-Israel movement."

Sitting in the audience of 10,000 on Sunday was Judith Pfeffer, of Warrenton, Pa., who described herself as a huge Obama supporter. But she said his remarks Thursday had left her troubled.

"Although I'm usually more to the mainstream or to the left in Israeli politics, I really understand [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu on this issue," she said.

When the president and the prime minister met in the Oval Office on Friday, Netanyahu looked Obama in the eye and called his proposal "indefensible."

"While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines," Netanyahu said.

On Sunday, Obama tried to defuse the controversy. He told AIPAC that his position is no different from the U.S. position going back to the 1990s.

"What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately," he said.

He argued his position had been misrepresented. The audience responded favorably when he explained that he wants Israelis and Palestinians themselves to negotiate a border that is different from the 1967 lines.

"That's what mutually agreed upon swaps means," Obama said. "It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years."

Obama said the world is changing so fast that delaying peace will only make Israel's challenges grow.

Still, there's no sign of real peace negotiations starting anytime soon.

That left Randall Levitt of Rockville, Md., wondering why Obama decided to wade into this morass now.

"My general feeling is that it's completely unnecessary and ill-timed and I'm really unable to understand why he created a conflict and disagreement with a close ally at a moment in time when there doesn't appear to be any possibility at all for meaningful negotiations," Levitt said.

Whether the controversy is authentic or manufactured, as Obama claims, Sunday's speech does not seem to have made it go away. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.