A day after calling for the creation of a Palestinian state along Israel's 1967 borders, President Obama wrapped up a two-hour meeting with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon with a press conference in the Oval Office. While both leaders emphasized the enduring friendship between their two countries, they also approached their comments very differently.
Obama spoke briefly, in the rather vague diplomatic language that often accompanies such events. He spoke, for example, of a "prolonged and extremely useful conversation touching on a wide range of issues." He also noted that "obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language--and that's going to happen between friends. But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats."
An unsmiling Netanyahu, meanwhile, spoke for longer and was much more blunt about the differences between the two men. The prime minister rejected Obama's proposal to establish a Palestinian state along 1967 borders as "indefensible" and surveyed Jewish history, noting that the Jewish people "don't have much margin for error" and that Israel's pre-1967 borders "were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars." As The Washington Post points out, Netanyahu also implied that Obama has an unrealistic of how to broker peace in the Middle East. "Peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality," he warned. The New York Times adds that Netanyahu expressed his commitment to peace but "then promptly listed a series of nonnegotiable conditions that have kept the two sides at an impasse for years," like negotiating with a Palestinian Authority that includes the Islamist group Hamas and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to Israel (Netanyahu: "It's not going to happen").
But Michael Hirsh at National Journal warns against reading too much into the two leaders' divergent comments. "It's all in the code," he writes. "The words themselves don't mean much." True, he says, Obama and Netanyahu "appeared to be almost negotiating in public" today. But Obama didn't mention an Israeli settlement freeze or suggest any "practical way forward in talks." How does Hirsh decipher the code? "Obama's disagreements with Netanyahu--who is notorious for his delay tactics--may not be not very substantial after all," he concludes.
Here are some photos from the awkward exchange via AP and Reuters:
And here's a video of the press conference.