WASHINGTON (AP) - Trying to advance debate in the explosive Middle East, President Barack Obama on Thursday endorsed a key Palestinian demand for the borders of its future state and prodded Israel to accept that it can never have a truly peaceful nation that is based on "permanent occupation."
Obama's urging that a Palestinian state be based on 1967 borders - those that existed before the Six Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza - was a significant shift in U.S. policy and seemed certain to anger Israel.
Israel has said an endorsement of the 1967 borders would prejudge negotiations. Obama also took pains to show respect for Israel's views ahead of his meetings Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The president cautioned that the recent power-sharing agreement between the mainstream Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas and the radical Hamas movement that rules Gaza "raises profound and legitimate" security questions for Israel. Netanyahu has refused to deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
"How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?" Obama asked. "In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question."
Obama also rejected a push by the Palestinians for U.N. recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem this fall. "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state," Obama said.
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