WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has endorsed a long-standing Palestinian demand that the borders of any future state of Palestine be based on the lines prevailing before the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed for talks with Obama in Washington on Friday saying a Palestinian state configured that way could leave Israel “indefensible.”
Obama’s stress on 1967 borders went further than before in offering principles for resolving the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians and put the United States formally on record as endorsing the historical borders as a starting point.
But he stopped short of presenting a formal U.S. peace plan or suggesting how talks should resume.
Following are facts touching on the borders bequeathed by the 1948 war surrounding the creation of the Jewish state.
* The 1967 borders echoed the “Green Line” of demarcation set out by a 1949 armistice between Israel and its Arab neighbors — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria — ending the war over the establishment of the Jewish state. For 18 years, this line had divided Israel from other parts of former Mandate Palestine, namely the West Bank, administered by Jordan, and Gaza, controlled by Egypt. It had not become a formal international border owing to the lack of an Israeli-Arab peace accord. Jordan also administered the eastern half of Jerusalem including its Old City, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
* In the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel kept the West Bank and Gaza under military occupation and allowed settlements by Jews who regarded both territories and East Jerusalem as part of biblical Eretz Israel (Land of Israel). It annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.
* In 1993, the Palestinians who constitute the vast majority of the population in the occupied territories signed interim peace deals with Israel giving them limited self-rule. But the accords did not curb expansion of fortified Jewish settlements, increasingly dimming prospects for the contiguous state sought by Palestinians under any final peace agreement.
* In 2005, Israel’s then-prime minister Ariel Sharon withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza, which is now controlled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
* The United States has in recent years backed Israel’s view that any future peace deal would require a re-assessment of borders and take into account “realities on the ground,” seen as a reference to Israeli settlements.
* Settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now number more than 500,000. They can travel freely over the old Green Line to and from Israel, unlike Palestinians, whose movements are restricted by Israeli army checkpoints and bases that keep settlements sealed off from nearby Palestinian cities and towns.
* In the past decade Israel has built a network of razor-wire fences, interspersed with towering walls, to separate it from the Palestinians. The barrier’s purpose is preventing entry by Palestinian militants, particularly suicide bombers, from the West Bank. Palestinians say it is a unilateral land grab since its course often strays from the Green Line to take in West Bank settlements that Israel sees as inseparable from the Jewish state under any future peace accord.
* The World Court deems the settlements illegal, a ruling Israel rejects. The United States and European Union have viewed settlements as obstacles to peace and urged their cessation.
* The Western-backed Palestinian Authority created under interim peace deals, and now headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, wants a state covering all of the pre-June 1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
* Hamas and other Islamist militants do not recognize the old Green Line for purposes of defining borders with Israel, instead rejecting the Jewish state’s very existence and calling for a Palestinian state covering all of old Mandate Palestine.
* In 2002, a Saudi-initiated Arab League proposal called for peace with Israel based on an Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 borders. Israel dismissed the proposal.
* In a speech on Thursday, Obama said: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” of land. This had long been the private view in Washington. But Obama went further than past U.S. presidents by explicitly stating it as U.S. policy rather than simply acknowledging it as a Palestinian hope, and dropping any reference to the future status of Israeli settlements.
* Netanyahu spurned Obama’s call, saying: “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence.” Netanyahu said he expected “to hear a reaffirmation from Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004” — an allusion to a letter by then-president George W. Bush suggesting the Jewish state may keep big settlement blocs as part of any peace pact. “Those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines,” Netanyahu added.
* Israeli governments of all stripes have insisted that Jerusalem is the Jewish state’s eternal, indivisible capital.
Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Bill Trott