VIDEO - WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama spoke before an AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference in Washington Sunday, amid rumored tensions with both Jreusalem and the Jewish community in the United States, following his Mideast policy speech last
Obama's speech, where he endorsed the 1967 borders as the basis for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has chafed the tense relations between Jerusalem and Washington further, as well as sparked rumors that the Jewish American community was, for the large part, rethinking its support for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.
Obama began by reassuring AIPAC that "the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel
is ironclad"; adding that the US was committed to keeping Israel the secure home of the Jewish people.
"I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech," Obama began. "I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel."
- For President Obama's full speech click here
Addressing the rumored tensions between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
Obama said that "While we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
Obama at AIPAC conference (Photo: AFP)
"A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of United States not simply because we share strategic interests… (it is) simply because we face common dangers."
America, he continued, has "a profound commitment to Israel's survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people. We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood.
"Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority," he continued, saying that cooperation between the US military and the IDF was at "an unprecedented levels," and that the US' most advanced technologies are available to Israel, which is why the US has increased foreign military financing "to record levels."
"Make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge," Obama stressed to the sound of the crowd's roaring applause.
As for the Iranian nuclear threat Obama declared: "Let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
"You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, 'Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,' and 'efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States,'" he assured his audience.
It because of the US' commitment to Israel’s long-term security that Washington has worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the US president forged on.
"Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties, and… the recent agreement between Fatah
poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.
"We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit,
who has been kept from his family for five long years."
Roaring applause (Photo: AFP)
Obama then turned his attention to his controversial Mideast speech: "I know that stating principles – on the issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few days," he cut right to the core.
"But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. And so I want to share with you some of what I said to the prime Minister.
"I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict… The United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate," he said.
The US, he reaffirmed, "Will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric."
"There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous US Administrations," Obama said.
The US "believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan,
and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states... As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat," he stressed.
"Let me reaffirm what '1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps' means: 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.
"It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.
"The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace," he concluded.
The conference is known as AIPAC's annual show of strength and true to form, some 10,000 people from all over the US attended the meeting. An increased presence of senators and congressmen from all across the political spectrum was also noted.
Prior to Obama's arrival, pro-Israel demonstrators rallied outside the gathering's venue, protesting what they believed would be the US president's reiteration of his support of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.
Meanwhile, some 300 protesters gathered outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, rallying against Obama's speech. The protesters were carrying signs reading "Obama, Israel will not commit suicide."
Yitzhak Benhorin and Attila Somfalvi in Washington contributed to this report