Rift grows between Obama and Netanyahu

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bluntly rejected Barack Obama’s assertion thay any future independent Palestinian state must be based on the borders which existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

Following a state department speech made yesterday by President Obama in which he called for the renewal of the peace process, Mr Netanyahu said “the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state”. He said also that withdrawing to the 1967 borders would further expose Israel to external threats and “leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines”.

This disagreement – which comes just hours before a key Israeli-US summit in Washington – will serve to increase the tension between the two leaders, who last year publicly fell out after Mr Netanyahu pointedly refused to halt the building of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. In March 2010 Mr Obama took the unprecedented step of leaving the Israeli prime minister waiting in the White House guest lounge while he dined privately with his family, causing a diplomatic furore.

Mr Netyanhu’s obstinance may be due to recent developments in Palestine. This month Fatah and Hamas brought to an end five years of internecine conflict when they signed an historic reconciliation pact in Cairo, signalling the start of a more unified Palestinian approach to negotiations with Israel and strengthening the Palestinian drive for statehood.

Israel is also under increasing pressure as a result of the instability caused by the wave of democratic revolutions sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Regimes in Egypt and Tunisia which had for years successfully supressed Islamist movements have been overthrown and Tekl Aviv is nervous about what kind of governments will replace them.