Obama: 1967 borders must reflect demographic changes (UPDATE)
Adds Israel, Hamas reactions (first version posted at 21:45)
US President Barack Obama said Sunday his framework for establishing Israeli-Palestinian borders based on 1967 lines would have to account for demographic changes that have taken place since Israel seized control of the West Bank, dpa reported.
Speaking to the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama said the proposal "allows the parties themselves to take account of the changes, the demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides."
The remarks came after his speech Thursday on the Middle East that the final borders for a Palestinian state should be based on the lines prior to the June 1967 Middle East war, but adjusted by land swaps to take into consideration the changes that have taken place since then.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who flatly rejected the proposal on Thursday, on Sunday expressed "appreciation" for Obama's remarks and said he was ready to work with the US administration toward a peace agreement with Palestinians.
"I share the president's desire to advance in peace," Netanyahu said in a statement sent by his office to reporters. "I am determined to work together with President Obama in order to find ways of renewing peace negotiations. Peace is a vital need for all of us."
The Islamist group Hamas slammed Obama and warned that the United States will fail in its efforts to get Palestinians to recognize Israel's legitimacy.
"Obama's statements are completely biased to the behalf of the Israeli occupation on the expense of the Palestinian people's freedom and self-determination," Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has de facto control, said in a statement.
He said that Obama's statement was proof that the US administration is not a fair mediator.
Obama's speech on Thursday seemed to widen the gap between the US and Israel.
During a meeting with Obama on Friday, Netanyahu said the 1967 borders are "indefensible" and that Israel "cannot go back" to those boundaries. Both leaders showed disagreement over how to proceed with the peace process, but Obama on Sunday played down what he called the "controversy" over his remarks.
"What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately," Obama said.
Obama explained his position as long-standing US policy to base the borders on the 1967 lines with adjustments.
"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," he said.
Obama urged both sides to move quickly toward a final settlement, warning that delays could harm Israel's long-term security given the rapid changes in the Middle East.
He said that, as democracy emerges in countries like Egypt and Tunisia following the mass uprisings against authoritarian regimes, it becomes urgent to move more quickly toward peace.
"A failure to try is not an option," Obama said. "The status quo is unsustainable."
"The world is moving too fast," Obama said, before adding: "Delay will undermine Israel's security."