Israeli PM Netanyahu has expressed dismay about President Obama’s Middle East speech. Bibi supposedly was outraged that Obama mentioned the pre-1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations.
Netanyahu has complained that Mr. Obama has pushed Israel too far – a point driven home during a furious phone call with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday morning, just hours before Mr. Obama’s speech, during which the prime minister reacted angrily to the president’s plan to endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders for a future Palestinian state. Mr. Obama did not back down.
Another Times article notes Obama’s sharp break from past approaches.
Mr. Obama declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war – adjusted to some degree to account for Israeli settlements in the West Bank – should be the basis of a deal. While the 1967 borders have long been viewed as the foundation for a peace agreement, Mr. Obama’s formula of land swaps to compensate for disputed territory created a new benchmark for a diplomatic solution.
By the way, was there any communication between these reporters and the Times editorial staff, who more sensibly noted:
There was much hand-wringing in Israel over the president’s call for a two-state solution based on “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” The language was new, but it was not a major change in American policy. It must not become another excuse for inaction.
Bibi’s point man in the US, Alan Dershowitz, decried that Obama “insisted that Israel must surrender all of the areas captured in its defensive war of 1967, subject only to land swaps.” Dershowitz added for good measure that in 1967, a unanimous Security Council passed Resolution 242 with the explicit understanding that parts of Jerusalem, including “the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and the access roads to Hebrew University,” would be retained by Israel “without the need for any land swaps.” He would know, you see, because he “played a very small role in helping to draft” the resolution, and that was at least his understanding even if this provision was somehow omitted from the final text.
Relax, guys. Nothing’s changed. The old formula is still in place.
Of course the 1967 lines have always been the starting point for discussion – they were in Barak’s “generous” 2000 offer at Camp David, the more promising Taba negotiations in 2001 that were cut short due to the impending Israeli election of the rejectionist Sharon, and in Olmert’s 2008 “even more generous” offer.
Why the uproar now? What was Obama supposed to say – that the starting point was complete Israeli control from the river to the sea, and that Israel could expect concessions for each square kilometer that it graciously yielded? Even in our poisoned political atmosphere, that would never fly. The 1967 lines are the only logical starting point. The devil has always been in the details, and Obama explicitly included those devilish details in his speech.
First, there’s the “mutually agreed swaps” of land to determine permanent borders. By definition, such swaps require negotiations, which would be between the elected legitimate government of the only democracy in the Middle East and, and… Uh oh. The Palestinians have reached a unity agreement in which Hamas will be part of any negotiations. The Palestinians themselves and most of the international community applaud this reconciliation as a necessary step to meaningful progress, but to the US and Israel, it spells “DQ”.
Obama: “the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist.”
So negotiations are required to determine the “mutually agreed swaps,” and negotiations are impossible with Hamas included in the decision-making process. When Palestinians insist on their right to choose their own leaders and to have a more inclusive group represent them, guess whose fault it is when these land swaps cannot be agreed upon for lack of a legitimate negotiating partner?
And what about Jerusalem and right of return that Obama postpones for future consideration? We don’t even have to get there. The “peace process” will enter its 45th year of hopelessness, with those issues remaining trump cards to be called upon only in the unlikely event that there appears to be real progress toward a settlement.
It used to be that Israel could not negotiate while the threat of Iranian nuclear annihilation was hanging over its head. Before that, Ariel Sharon could not negotiate in the midst of terrorist attacks, and when such attacks were curtailed, he had forgotten about his promise to do so. Now the problem is the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian “government.” In September, it will be the confusion and uncertainty brought on by possible UN recognition of a Palestinian State. That’s another future obstacle already identified by Obama as a potential deal-breaker.
The certainty of unresolvable conflict, blamed on the Palestinians, is built in to Obama’s plan. The status quo has served the Israelis well over the past 44 years. Sure, they’ve had to endure various rounds of “terrorism,” that is, a small fraction of the violence they have visited upon the Palestinians and Lebanese. But the land has been theirs to play with. They get to rule over millions of stateless, powerless people, making extrajudicial decisions over every facet of their lives and even whether they have lives at all, and still get to call themselves a “democracy”; only a few people, and none who count, snicker in disgust.
The occupation may be intolerable, but only for its victims. Israel can continue for another 44 years, creating new “facts on the ground.” Such opinions presently are expressed only by its more outspoken politicians (e.g., Avigdor Lieberman, who dismissed peace with the Palestinians as being “decades away”), but they are shared by much of the government and the country as a whole. Netanyahu doesn’t really care where the starting point is. He just wants to make sure there’s no realistic possibility of an end point.
The fear that Obama has grown a spine is greatly exaggerated, though Netanyahu’s pretend “furious” reaction surely is designed to make Obama look and maybe feel tougher than he is. This doesn’t even address the underlying problem of the illegal settlements which make the two-state solution impossible. Obama’s criticism of the settlements was limited to the fact that they are “continuing,” and of course the Palestinians were to blame because they “walked away from talks.”
So Obama has endorsed a blueprint for no progress toward an unachievable outcome, and we are supposed to believe Netanyahu’s howls of outrage over a single reference to the long-standing “starting point” for the road to nowhere. How transparent is this? Even Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t buy it!