WASHINGTON — In a public rebuke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a White House appearance with President Obama on Friday to reject any suggestion that Israel might even consider withdrawing from territories it seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.
"While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines," Netanyahu said with Obama at his side, both seated in the Oval Office. "These lines are indefensible. ... They don't take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years."
The president had called Thursday for new peace negotiations toward a Palestinian state to be based on Israel's 1967 borders, supplemented with voluntary land swaps and leaving questions about Jerusalem's status for the future. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush had taken essentially the same position, though with different wording.
Netanyahu said the territory added since 1967 gave Israel a better chance to defend itself, and that any retreat would forfeit defensive positions against attack.
"Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of 9 miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway," he said, referring to the area of Washington encircled by I-495. "These were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive."
Moreover, Netanyahu made clear that he intends not only to maintain control of at least some of the seized territory in the West Bank of the Jordan River, but he also said he'd keep Israeli military there.
"We can't go back to those indefensible lines, and we're going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan," he said.
Netanyahu addressed his remarks to the Palestinians. But with Obama's talk about the 1967 borders in his speech the day before, it was clear that the prime minister was reacting to the president. Obama stared blankly at Netanyahu as the prime minister spoke.
Despite Netanyahu's face-to-face rebuke — in the president's office and in front of the news media — Obama aides said that the president didn't propose that Israel simply withdraw to pre-1967 borders. They said he'd proposed only that the pre-1967 borders serve as an opening point for negotiations with the Palestinians, as long as any agreement included mutually agreed-on swaps of land.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the idea of using the pre-1967 borders — also known as the borders set in 1949 — as a starting point for negotiations wasn't new. President Clinton started from the same premise in trying to broker a peace deal in 2000.