Israel can make some concessions in peace talks, but will not retreat to the 1967 lines because they are 'indefensible', Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following a meeting with US President Barack Obama.
"Israel wants peace, I want peace," he told reporters after the meeting, but explained that he is "the leader of a persecuted people" who cannot take any chances or make mistakes regarding its security. "History will not give the Jewish people another chance," Netanyahu said.
Thus Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace with Israel, Netanyahu said, explaining that Hamas was a terror organization that recently fired a missile at a school bus, killing a teenage boy.
Obama agreed that Hamas "is not a partner for a significant realistic peace process" and said Palestinians would have to resolve that issue among themselves.
He added that "differences remain between US, Israel over path for reaching Middle East peace" but that such disagreements happen "between friends." He said he had reiterated the peace "principles" he laid out on Thursday in his policy speech.
He stressed that the two allies agree, however, that uprisings in Arab countries "provide a moment of opportunity as well as challenges".
Netanyahu also told Obama that Israel values the US president's efforts to advance the peace process. Regarding the issue of the Palestinian right of return, the prime minister stressed that Israel would not accept any Palestinian refugees. The issue will have to be resolved within Palestinian territory, and it is time to make this clear to the Palestinians, he said.
The US president said both he and Netanyahu were concerned over the violence in Syria, and that he had updated the latter on the US's plans for pressing reform in the country, including additional steps against President Bashar Assad. He also reiterated that the US would not accept a nuclear Iran.
The meeting between the two leaders at the White House began at 6:30 pm Israel's time and ended an hour and 40 minutes later, nearly an hour past schedule.
Netanyahu and Obama at White House (Photo: MCT)
During the meeting the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, voiced "strong support" for Obama's vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
"The Quartet agrees that moving forward on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues," the group said in a statement.
Also during the meeting, sources in the State Department criticized Netanyahu's response to Obama's speech, saying his demands for US commitment to Israel's security had been unnecessary as the president had made sure to mention this in his speech.
In addition, sources said, Obama had stressed that a withdrawal to the 1967 borders would be accompanied by mutually accepted exchanges of territory, which was nothing new to anyone involved in the negotiations and did not merit anger on Netanyahu's part.
"There is a feeling that Washington does not understand the reality, doesn't understand what we face," an official on board the plane taking Netanyahu to Washington told reporters.
Reuters contributed to this report