By Mike Lillis
Taking a shot at President Obama, the second-ranking House Republican said Sunday that Arab culture — not the dispute over 1967 borders — is to blame for the long-standing absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Painting in broad strokes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) accused the Palestinians — and the Arab world, more generally — of harboring a "resentment and hatred" toward Israel that, he says, has made an accord impossible.
"What kind of culture leads one to do that? Sadly, it is a culture infused with resentment and hatred," said Cantor, the lone Jewish Republican in Congress. "It is this culture that underlies the Palestinians' and the broader Arab world's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
"This is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians — it is not about the '67 lines," he added to roaring applause and a standing ovation. "And until Israel's enemies come to terms with this reality, a true peace will be impossible."
The debate over Israel's 1967 borders has reached a fever pitch following Obama's suggestion Thursday that those boundaries be the basis for renewing the stalled peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Although Israeli officials, behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have rejected that proposal in no uncertain terms, that didn't prevent Obama from repeating it Sunday at the AIPAC conference.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," Obama said, drawing some applause — and a smattering of "nos" — from the AIPAC delegates.
The president emphasized that basing the negotiations on the 1967 borders is not the same as endorsing those boundaries as part of a final deal. In fact, he said that would almost certainly not be the case.
"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," he said. "That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means."
Still, the delegates' rousing reaction to Cantor's 1967 reference is ready indication that many in the American Jewish community are wary of the president's approach to renewing the peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The hurdles to a peace deal grew higher in April when Fatah, the Palestinian political party, signed a reconciliation agreement with its rival Hamas, which both the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist organization.
Cantor on Sunday called directly on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to renounce all attacks on Israel.
"Come to the negotiating table when you have prepared your people to forgo hatred and renounce terrorism — and Israel will embrace you," he said to another rousing ovation. "Until that day, there can be no peace with Hamas."
Hours earlier, Obama had delivered a similar message regarding the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, warning that it "poses an enormous obstacle to peace."
"No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction," he said, "and we will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements."
Before leaving the stage, Cantor took a final shot at Obama, who was characterized in a recent New Yorker article as "leading from the rear" in his approach to the recent turmoil in the Middle East.
"There is a time for talk; but now is the time for action," Cantor said. "There is a time for following; but now is the time to lead — from the front."