Protesters rally outside AIPAC conference ahead of Obama speech

U.S. President expected to reiterated support for Palestinian state within 1967 borders
in speech meant to stave off further deterioration in U.S.-Israeli ties

By Natasha Mozgovaya and Barak Ravid
Haaretz

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak later Sunday at the AIPAC conference in Washington, where he is expected to try to stave off further deterioration in U.S.-Israeli relations.

While AIPAC officials said they hoped Obama’s speech would not be interrupted by conference goers, outside the venue protesters were gathering early Sunday to speak out against Obama’s expected reiteration of his support of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

aipac-may-22-1
Protesters outside an AIPAC conference ahead
of a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama,
May 22, 2011.
Photo By Natasha Mozgovaya

Activists, dressed as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed AIPAC members first thing in the morning, toting signs with slogans such as “Keep Diplomacy Impotent!” and signs supporting Palestinian right of return.

One display erected on the grounds included two soldiers dressed in pink and armed with a toy gun, pushing around a pregnant Palestinian woman and dropping her to the ground.

Much tension was building ahead of Obama’s planned AIPAC speech after the seventh meeting between Obama and Netanyahu on Friday ended with a televised confrontation that showed the entire world the depth of the disagreement between the two leaders on the Palestinian question.

Senior officials in both the U.S. administration and the prime minister’s delegation expressed a sense of great tension and profound mutual insult following the meeting.

While Obama, speaking to the BBC later Sunday ahead of his AIPAC speech, reaffirmed his commitment to the 1967 borders as a peace-talks guideline, he warned the Palestinian against appealing to the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state, urging the future Fatah-Hamas unity cabinet to make a decision on their stance toward peace talks with Israel.

“They’ve got to make a decision, first of all, in what is the official position of a unified Palestinian authority about how they’re dealing with Israel,” Obama said, adding that “if they can’t get past that barrier, it’s going to be very hard for a negotiation to take place. I also believe that the notion that you can solve this problem in the United Nations is simply unrealistic.”

The U.S. president said that he had already told Palestinian officials that “whatever happens in the United Nations, you are going to have to talk to the Israelis if you are going to have a state in which your people have self-determination, adding: “You are not going to be able to do an end run around the Israelis.”

“And so I think that, you know, whatever efforts they mount in the United Nations will be symbolic, he said, adding that the world has “seen a lot of these sort of symbolic efforts before. They’re not something that the United States is going to be particularly sympathetic towards, simply because we think it avoids the real problems with that have to be resolved between the two parties.”

The U.S. president also reiterated his support of the 1967 borders functioning as a negotiations starting point, adding that “the truth is that we were stating what I think most observers of the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recognize as the obvious – which is that if you’re going to have any kind of peace, you’re going to have two states side by side.”

See Related: 1967 borders negotiable between Israel and Palestine, Obama tells AIPAC – Full text of speech

See Related: Top Jewish Americans ponder support for Obama

See Related: Obama addresses AIPAC Sunday – Conference May 22-24

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