President Obama has confirmed his administration is continuing longstanding U.S. policy of rejecting a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Speaking before a gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama addressed what he called “misrepresentations” of his call last week for a peace deal based on the 1967 borders. Mirroring the stance of his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama suggested he would back Israel’s retention of its settlement blocs in the West Bank.
President Obama: “By definition, 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. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”
Obama also renewed his opposition to a Palestinian campaign to seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations.
President Obama: “I firmly believe, and I repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment. That is my pledge to all of you.”
Obama’s speech last week had been billed as a major breakthrough in U.S. recognition of Palestinian rights to a state in the Occupied Territories. But speaking on Democracy Now!, the author and historian Norman Finkelstein said Obama had effectively endorsed ongoing Israeli control of the West Bank.
Norman Finkelstein: “The formula has to be exactly as the International Court of Justice said in July 2004 and as the U.N. General Assembly says every year with near-unanimous support. The Palestinians have the right to self-determination in the whole of the West Bank, the whole of Gaza, with East Jerusalem, the whole of East Jerusalem, as its capital. That’s the Palestinian right. That’s not subject to negotiations. Rights are enforced; they are not negotiated. The moment you say it has to be mutually agreed upon means Israel has a veto over Palestinian rights.”
Obama’s speech to American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) came two days after he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Netanyahu repeated his stance that the 1967 borders are “indefensible,” because they would exclude from Israel the hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers living on occupied Palestinian land. Netanyahu also vowed that Israel would maintain troops along what would be the Palestinian state’s eastern border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. We’re going to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan — I discussed this with the President. I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.”
In a move likely timed to coincide with Netanyahu’s visit to the United States, the Israeli government confirmed the authorization of more than 1,500 new homes on two settlements around East Jerusalem. Outside the White House, Palestinian solidarity activists gathered to call for an end to the occupation.
Protester: “What we’re after is to liberate and support the Palestinians. They’ve been oppressed and occupied and colonized for over 40 years, and Israel needs to let them go, needs to free up the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem.”
Thousands of people gathered in the Pakistani city of Karachi Sunday to protest ongoing U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. The rally capped a two-day sit-in by the Movement for Justice, led by former cricket star Imram Khan, calling for an end to Pakistani military collaboration with the so-called “war on terror.” In addition to protesting the drone strikes, the demonstrators also called for the blocking of NATO supply routes through Pakistan.
President Obama has kicked off a four-nation tour of Europe, his first foreign trip since the death of Osama bin Laden. Obama is in Ireland today, followed by Britain, France and Poland. Protests are already underway in France, where Obama will join other heads of state for the G8 summit. On Saturday, thousands of people marched in the French town of Le Havre, just miles from the summit site.
Protester: “We would like things to change, for example, how wealth needs to be better distributed between the countries on our planet. And that is why we are here, to say that the citizens, the people of the world, have the right to speak up. Next week they will not have the opportunity to speak at all in all the planned meetings. That’s why we’re here today.”
In Spain, the governing Socialist Party has suffered major losses in local elections amidst a growing grassroots uproar calling for a radical change. The Socialists, led by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, were ousted from office in nearly all of Spain’s major cities and autonomous regions. In a speech, Zapatero conceded his party had been punished for an economic crisis that has left unemployment at 21 percent. Protesters, meanwhile, are vowing to remain in the streets after a week-long action against austerity measures in the run-up to the elections. The nascent movement, dubbed “Real Democracy Now” or “M-15” after its start date of May 15th, has attracted tens of thousands of people across Spain. At the movement’s base camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol Square, protesters voted to continue demonstrating.
Protester: “For the moment, we have decided to stay at least for one more week, but that does not exclude the possibility of staying indefinitely or until we achieve something. We will stay at least one more week.”
The Spanish movement has published a list of demands, which includes the shutting down of all nuclear power plants and changes to foreclosure laws.
More deaths have been reported in the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters opposing President Bashar al-Assad. On Saturday, at least 11 people were killed in the city of Homs while attending a funeral for 10 people who had been killed the day before. The mourners reportedly came under fire as they left the cemetery.
In Iraq, at least 20 people were killed and more than 80 wounded in a series of weekend explosions in Baghdad. In the deadliest incident, eight Iraqi police officers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the scene of a prior attack. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three were wounded when a bomb hit a U.S. military patrol just miles from the expansive base known as Camp Victory. Violence in Baghdad has escalated in recent weeks as Iraqi lawmakers debate whether to request an extended U.S. occupation beyond the withdrawal date for later this year.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has rejected another transition deal that would remove him from office. On Sunday, Saleh said he had refused to sign an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council over what he called fears of a “civil war.” Earlier in the day, a group of Western and Gulf diplomats serving as mediators were trapped in an embassy in the capital, Sana’a, after being surrounded by armed government loyalists. They were rescued by helicopter.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has reached an agreement to return to Honduras after over a year in exile. On Sunday, Zelaya joined current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo in Colombia to formalize a deal for his return and pave the way for Honduras’s readmission to the Organization of American States. On his weekly television program, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said the deal would include the main group that opposed the coup regime.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “We have been mediating, and there is a document to be signed, and it will soon be made public, where there are four points that President Zelaya requested through us, and they are included there. The first one is that President Manuel Zelaya, ousted by a coup, be allowed to return to his homeland, and I believe there is even a date, and that the National Resistance Party be recognized as a legal and legitimate political force in Honduras.”
The Pentagon says it is investigating claims the U.S. military buried the chemical defoliant Agent Orange at one of its bases in South Korea. Three veterans claim to have been ordered to dispose of Agent Orange while stationed at the Camp Carroll military base in 1978. South Koreans living near the facility may be at risk if the chemicals seeped into groundwater in the area. The U.S. military sprayed an estimated 20,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, affecting millions of Vietnamese and causing widespread birth defects.
The United Nations has launched a fact-finding mission to investigate nuclear safety in Japan in the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility. A 20-member delegation will visit Japan before issuing a report to a ministerial conference at the end of June. James Lyons of the International Atomic Energy Agency is among those taking part.
James Lyons: “First of all, I want to express the Agency’s (IAEA) sincere sympathy to the Japanese people for the tragedy that they’ve suffered as a result of the tsunami. And we’re there to do a fact-finding mission, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot while I’m there, and then we’re going to provide a report to the member states when we get back.”
At least 89 people are believed to be dead after a massive tornado tore through the Missouri city of Joplin. The storm cut a path through the town’s center nearly six miles long and a half-mile wide. With an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the town destroyed, authorities have warned the death toll could rise. St. John’s Hospital on Joplin’s south side reportedly took a “direct hit” causing multiple injuries. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. More than 350 people were killed when tornadoes struck areas across the South last month.