President Barack Obama is set to deliver a hotly anticipated speech tomorrow to "argue that the political upheaval [in the Arab world] raises the prospect for progress on all fronts, and will offer 'some specific new ideas about U.S. policy toward the region,'" the New York Times reports. And according to a report in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth, Obama will "call upon Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, with border alterations that will be agreed upon with the Palestinian Authority"--a move that would "disturb" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But perhaps Netanyahu has little to worry about. The Obama administration has already backtracked on the 1967 borders in private meetings with Palestinian officials, according to documents released by Al Jazeera as part of the "Palestine Papers." The backtracking on the 1967 lines came despite an an affirmation in the Bush administration-backed "Road Map" on Middle East peace that the '67 borders would be the border for Israel and a Palestinian state.
Analysis by Ali Abunimah for Al Jazeera indicates how little a commitment to the 1967 borders by Obama in his speech Thursday could mean:
In apparently contentious meetings between Mitchell and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and their respective teams in September and October 2009 -- whose detailed contents have been revealed for the first time -- Mitchell claimed the Bush administration position was nonbinding. He pressed the Palestinians to accept terms of reference that acquiesced to Israel's refusal to recognize the 1967 line which separates Israel as it was established in 1948 from the West Bank and Gaza Strip where Palestinians hoped to have their state...
At a critical 21 October 2009 meeting, [George] Mitchell read out proposed language for terms of reference:
"The US believes that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that achieves both the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state encompassing all the territory occupied in 1967 or its equivalent in value, and the Israeli goal of secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meets Israeli security requirements."
Erekat's response was blunt: "So no Road Map?" The implication of the words "or equivalent in value" is that the US would only commit to Palestinians receiving a specific amount of territory -- 6258 square kilometers, or the equivalent area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- but not to any specific borders.