By Mike Lillis – 05/24/11 04:05 PM ET
House lawmakers from both parties are siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over President Obama in their differing approaches to the Israel-Palestine border dispute.
Obama last week called for Israel’s 1967 borders to mark the “foundation” for renewing stalled peace talks between the two sides – a concession to Palestine that Netanyahu has bluntly rejected, including in remarks to a joint meeting of Congress Tuesday.
“The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu told lawmakers in his 45-minute address. “And under any realistic peace agreement these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.”
Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that Obama is “tilting toward Hamas” – a reference to the Palestinian group the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization. He emphasized that Congress would never base its approach to Israeli aid on such a position.
“A majority of the Congress disagrees with him,” Andrews said of Obama.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), for one, said the president “absolutely … made a mistake” with his 1967-borders proposal, and suggested it would harm — rather than bolster — the chances of renewed peace talks.
“With all of the political turmoil and unrest in the Middle East, I don’t understand why the president injected himself into that issue right now,” he said.
Both Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have also rejected Obama’s proposal in recent days, telling the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that preconditions have no place in the negotiations.
“No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else,” Reid said Monday night to roaring applause.
Israel has expanded its borders considerably since 1967, most notably during that year’s Six Day War, when Israel conquered parts of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Thousands of Israelis have settled in the border regions.
While it is not unlike other plans promoted by past administrations, Obama’s call has provoked an outcry from Israeli leaders, Republican presidential hopefuls and a slew of Capitol Hill lawmakers, including some Democrats.
Addressing AIPAC Sunday, Obama sought to temper those concerns. The president clarified that he’s not calling for those boundaries to be the final lines and emphasized that “mutually agreed [land] swaps” would ensure that they wouldn’t be.
“By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” he said. “That is what mutually accepted swaps means.”
After Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday, Hoyer downplayed the division between Obama and Israel’s allies in Congress, saying both sides have moved beyond the rift.
“I don’t think the president had any intention of changing policy,” he said. “He said it was subject to swaps, in order words, adjustments. That’s essentially what President Bush said. I think we’re beyond that.”
— Russell Berman contributed to this report.