Barack Obama: Israel must recognise 1967 borders
President Barack Obama last night ordered Israel to accept Palestinian demands in a peace deal as he pledged American support for human rights in the Middle East.
Mr Obama was more explicit about the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that ever before. He said Israel had to accept the Palestinian demand for it to accept the 1967 borders.
A Jewish state "cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation" of Palestinian lands," he said.
"Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states," he said. "The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."
The embrace of a key Palestinian demand is likely to anger Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, on the eve of his visit to the White House on Friday.
Mr Obama, however, stopped well short of outlining a specific American peace plan. This had been urged on him by George Mitchell, Mr Obama's Middle East envoy, who resigned last week after becoming disillusioned by White House foot-dragging.
Following the speech, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, called a meeting of senior officials to discuss the implications.
Mr Netanyahu said he "appreciates" Mr Obama's words but that a withdrawal to 1967 lines was "indefensible".
The speech began 25 minutes after it was scheduled to start. The delay was said to be due to a debate over what to include, particularly whether a reference to the 1967 borders should be made.
The wide-ranging speech from the State Department in Washington, the seat of American diplomacy, was billed by the White House as the most important one by Mr Obama since his address to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago.
He sought for the first time to align the United States with the Arab Spring of uprisings across the Middle East that the White House has been reluctant to embrace fully, proclaiming that America has "a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self determination of individuals" in the region.
Mr Obama compared the upheaval in the Middle East and Africa to the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement, stating that the US was "founded on the believe that people should govern themselves."
"Sometimes, in the course of history, the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat," he said.
Hailing the "young vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi" from Tunisia who " was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart" and then set himself alight, Mr Obama stated that "it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy".
He said: "We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran."
Mr Obama also announced that he was relieving Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt whil also guaranteeing a similar sum "to finance infrastructure and job creation".
At the same time there were tough words for the region's dictators. He told Syria's President Bashir Assad that his people had "shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy" and he was now faced with "a choice – he can lead that transition, or get out of the way"
But the only penalty he outlined for failing to "stop shooting demonstrators" beyond the sanctions announced on Wednesday was that Assad's "regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad".
There were stern words for traditional US allies in the Middle East, Bahrain and Yemen. "If America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change that are consistent with the principles that I have outlined today," he said.