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What's so 'shocking' about Obama mentioning 1967 borders?

Not much. A fact check on Huckabee and Romney's outrage, and Netanyahu's mention of a 2004 US 'commitment.'

By Staff writer / May 20, 2011

US President Barack Obama makes a speech about United States policy regarding the Middle East and North Africa at the State Department in Washington on May 19.

Jason Reed/Reuters


The US president is seeking a settlement freeze in the West Bank. Key aides in his administration are convinced that the further Israel expands its footprint beyond its pre-1967 borders, the harder achieving peace will become. The administration's vision is for an eventual Palestinian state along the general lines of the borders that prevailed before the Six-Day War that began June 5, 1967.

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The hard-line Israeli prime minister and his aides are furious. "There can be only one meaning to this demand: It is an attempt to determine Israel's borders and the ultimate status of the areas in question in advance of negotiations," the Israeli prime minister says. "We shall never agree to such a step." An aide to the prime minister is even more dramatic, calling the old armistice line the "borders of Auschwitz."

Sound like the back and forth today, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashing out at Obama, and Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney saying the president had "thrown Israel under the bus"?

Yes, it's almost identical. But this was 1992, with George H. W. Bush's administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Mr. Netanyahu, an aide to Mr. Shamir at the time, made the "Auschwitz" comment.

This is all less than 20 years ago and far from ancient history. Which is why it's strange that so many quarters reacted to Obama's statement Thursday as if he'd broken new ground or done something to threaten Israel.

What did he say? "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps." What does that mean? Well, in practice it means the Israelis and the Palestinians would negotiate bits of a future Palestinian state that would not follow the 1967 borders, with some Israeli settlement blocs presumably being swapped for other bits of Israeli land. 1967 is just a starting point.

That's been the general working idea for the last four US presidencies, including two Republican administrations. Yet not only was Romney striking out at Obama as having undermined Israel's "ability to negotiate peace" but others were reacting with outrage. Mike Huckabee complained of Obama's "betrayal" of Israel.

Huckabee also fell into a camp that apparently misunderstood what Obama said. He complained that Obama "made a grievous mistake by suggesting borders of Israel go back to pre-1967 borders." As did Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican presidential aspirant ("Obama's insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a ... very dangerous demand.") As explained earlier, that's not what Obama said.


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