Republicans bash Obama over declaration on ‘67

"Strong disapproval in Congress for president's posture toward Israel," senator says; Democrats offer mixed views of plan.

US President Barack Obama at AIPAC 311 (R) (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
US President Barack Obama at AIPAC 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – A slew of Republicans and even several Democrats took issue Friday with US President Barack Obama’s declaration that an Israeli-Palestinian peace should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.
A senior GOP senator promised to introduce a resolution opposing the stance expressed in Obama’s landmark Middle East speech Thursday, and Republican presidential contenders bashed his position as harmful to Israel.
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“There is strong disapproval in Congress for the president’s new posture toward Israel, and I will introduce a resolution next week affirming Israel’s right to maintain its territorial integrity,” said Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“Rather than stand by Israel against consistent unprovoked aggression by longtime supporters of terrorism, President Obama is rewarding those who threaten Israel’s very right to exist.”
Declared and potential Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann all criticized Obama’s assertion.
Their attacks suggested the issue of Israel’s borders, as well as the peace process as a whole, could become a political rallying point in the 2012 elections.
“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.
He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace,” charged Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
Bachmann, a Minnesota representative, argued that “President Obama has again indicated his policy toward Israel is to blame Israel first.”
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (RFlorida), chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, also issued a sharply worded statement.
“The President’s call is a stark change in long-standing US foreign policy, contradicting pledges to Israel by multiple US presidents,” she said. “This about-face sends the wrong message to US allies about our willingness to stand by our commitments.”
Democrats took a softer line in responding to the speech, with many welcoming sections that rejected the idea of Palestinians seeking a unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN and ruling out Hamas as a partner for peace.
But many Democrats also strongly contested the idea that Israel should set its borders along the 1967 lines, saying this would threaten security.
“The 1967 armistice lines were simply not defensible, and Israel must not be made to return to them,” said New York Rep. Eliot Engel.
A handful of Democrats also implicitly took the president to task when they made suggestions for what he should say at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference he will be addressing Sunday.
“He ought to emphasize that any deal on territory must be ‘mutually agreed,’ effectively giving American backing to an Israeli veto over any new lines,” Gary Ackerman of New York, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East subcommittee.
“Moreover, he should make plain that America’s goal is for Israel to remain both a Jewish and a democratic state, which would speak volumes concerning the Palestinians’ so-called ‘right of return.’” Some Democrats, however, strongly defended the president’s comments.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he backed Obama’s formulation and that “what he called for was the framework that president Clinton operated on, that most countries have accepted and that “everybody knows from prior negotiations that a certain amount of settlements are going to be annexed to Israel.” Speaking on WBZ radio Thursday night, Kerry disputed the argument that Israel at the 1967 borders, just nine miles wide at its narrowest point, would be indefensible.
“That’s just not accurate anymore, to be honest with you, because the nature of the threat to Israel is frankly not a [conventional threat],” he said. “The threat to Israel now is the rockets that Hezbollah has and that other people have, and higher technology, and frankly Iran and the potential of weapons of mass destruction.”
He suggested that international and potentially American forces could patrol Israel’s eastern border and provide help with missile defense to secure the country.
“This is going to be a real test now as to whether or not Israel is prepared to make peace and how,” he said. “But it’s also a test of the other side.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council also made the case that Obama’s policy on the borders was consistent was that of previous administrations.
“The same basis and approach was used previously during the Obama administration, and by presidents Bush and Clinton before in their negotiations between the parties,” the organization said in a statement put out after the speech.
The group also circulated a quote from former president George W. Bush made in 2005 at an appearance with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he referred to mutually agreed adjustments to the 1949 armistice lines, a different term which refers to the same delineation as the 1967 lines.
“Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity on the West Bank” Bush said at the time.
“This is the position of the United States today; it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.”