U.S. President Obama tries to shore up support at AIPAC Conference, lists US actions for Israel's security.
By Gil Ronen and Fern Sidman
First Publish: 5/22/2011, 6:15 PM / Last Update: 5/22/2011, 6:22 PM
In an address aimed at placating his disgruntled Jewish supporters, President Barack Obama told his audience of over 10,000 at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday that "a strong and secure Israel is in the interest of the United States and the bond between our two vibrant democracies must be nurtured."
He maintained that he did not say anything fundamentally new in his Thursday speech, when he mentioned the "1967 borders" as a basis for future peace
Taking intense criticism from pro-Israel supporters since then, when he called for Israel to negotiate a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, he sought to heal wounds by enumerating actions taken by the US to foster Israel's security.
"We have made the most advanced technologies available to Israel including the 'iron dome' anti-rocket system. We have imposed the toughest sanctions on the Iranian regime as we remain committed to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We have told the United Nations that it will meet resistance from the US as we stand in steadfast opposition to their efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel. We responded to the Goldstone report by reasserting our belief that Israel has a right to defend herself", declared President Obama.
Obama said "demographic realities are making it harder to maintain Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state and a just and lasting peace can only be achieved through the establishment of two states for two peoples.
Warning that procrastination on a peace deal with the Palestinians will only serve to "undermine" Israel's security, President Obama said that any borders for a proposed Palestinian state would be predicated upon "mutual swaps" and recognition that geo-political realities have changed since 1967. "We must acknowledge that a failure to try and make peace is not acceptable," he said.
He insisted that his statement last week, in which he mentioned the 1949-1967 borders as the basis for a peace agreement, was a continuation of the policy of previous administrations. Regarding the phrase “1967 lines,” Obama repeated part of his Thursday speech verbatim.
“Let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with swaps’ means,” he then added. “The parties themselves will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed in 1967. That is what ‘mutually agreed swaps’ means. It allows for the parties to take account of the changes that have taken place over the past 44 years, including demographic facts on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
Disclosing the essence of his meeting on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama said, "As friends often do, we may disagree. We have an open and honest relationship.".
“Core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties,” he said, and reaffirmed that no country can be expected to negotiate with a terror organization bent on its destruction. Hamas, he said, must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence and adhere to all existing agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
He called on Hamas to release captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit – and received a rousing ovation.
“What I did Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” he explained. “I did so because the world is moving too fast for us to wait another decade. Delay will undermine Israel’s security.”
He concluded with a quote from the Talmud, which says that as long as a person breathes, he should not abandon faith.
There was speculation that Obama would use the opportunity to announce a visit to Israel in late June, but he did not do so.
In his speech, which began shortly before 11:00 EDT, Obama told the audience that in his meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu, "We reaffirmed the fundamental truth that the bonds between the U.S. and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the US to Israel’s security is ironclad."
The US and Israel do not just share strategic interests or common dangers – like terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons, he said. Rather, America’s commitment to Israel’s security flows from common values.
Obama reminded his audience of his visit to Israel before the 2008 election, and of his meeting with a Sderot boy who lost his leg in a Kassam attack.
He promised to continue to stand up to Hizbullah, and to block any attempt to delegitimize Israel. He cited the Durban conference, from which the US withdrew. “In both word and deed we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security,” he told the audience.
The conference is the largest in AIPAC history and includes more than 10,000 delegates, from all 50 states. According to AIPAC, the Policy Conference is the largest annual bipartisan gathering of U.S. senators, representatives, administration officials, diplomats and foreign ambassadors except for the State of the Union address.