ABC News' Tahman Bradley reports:
President Obama went to the American pro-Israel lobby today to reaffirm America's commitment to Israel’s security, and to try to clear up the controversy caused by remarks he made earlier in the week over the starting point for a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Obama set off a firestorm and clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after announcing during a Thursday speech at the State Department that the U.S. believes the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with mutually-agreed land swaps, should be the basis for negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The president said today that that he thinks controversy over his comments erupted because his position has been misrepresented.
"Let me reaffirm what '1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps' means," he said.
" 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. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation."
Obama said the negotiation would allow for both the Israelis and Palestinians to account for new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides with the ultimate goal of two states for both the Israelis and Palestinians.
"If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance", said Obama. "What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately."
Israel will face growing isolation without a credible peace process, Obama said, and the march to isolate Israel internationally and the Palestinians impulse to abandon negotiations will continue to gain momentum without a credible peace process.
"For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success," he said.
The president told the group he wasn’t surprised by the controversy over the past few days. "I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a president preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. I don’t need Rahm to tell me that. I don’t need Axelrod to tell me that," said Obama, in a reference to his close Jewish confidants, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.
There are facts that all side must face, Obama said. The number of Palestinian living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly, reshaping the demographic realities of the Israel and Palestinian-controlled territories, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself without a peace agreement, and a new generation of Arab makes it harder for just Arab leaders to push for a sustained peace.
Much of the president’s speech focused on assuring the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee that his administration has made Israel’s security a priority.
"It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels," said Obama.