The media and blogging world are all abuzz with arguments about what President Obama really meant when he talked about an “Israel-Palestinian peace agreement based on the 1967 lines”. There are those who claimed that he didn’t say anything new; in fact he was only repeating Presidential recommendations from Jimmy Carter through Bushes I and II, together with Clinton. There are many others who assert that Obama broke new ground with his statement, betraying America’s faithfully ally Israel.
To be honest I found it all very confusing myself, and the more I read the more confused I became, although I instinctively felt that obama had crossed a very serious red line.
Professor Barry Rubin (who also blogs at Pajamas Media) has published over the last week or two some excellent articles explaining just how Obama was wrong, and to what extent. He finds that the problem is not necessarily with the borders issue, or at least not only about the borders. It’s more about Obama’s grasp of Middle East realities. The articles make depressing reading but facts needs to be faced. I suggest you read them all – and the rest of his blog.
The first article addresses Obama’s policy speech last week: “Obama speech not intended to bash Israel but did so anyway“. A snippet (emphases are mine):
“Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks.”
I believe this is the first time he’s ever acknowledged that the Palestinians refused to talk, though this has been obvious for two years. But by not mentioning that at his request Israel made an unprecedented freeze and then at his demand added Jerusalem to that freeze, Obama shows that he will not appreciate or reward Israeli concessions.
At the very moment Egyptians want to abrogate their peace treaty, Obama urges Israel to sign another one. Israel made a deal with Lebanon’s government, that country’s president was assassinated, and the deal broken. Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, and was attacked by Hizballah. Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and Hamas attacked. Israel turned over land to the PA then faced terrorist attacks from it.
Yet Obama proposes doing the same thing again! He suggests Israel turns over the rest of the West Bank to the PA (a big and irreversible Israeli material concession) in exchange for security guarantees (an easily withdrawn Palestinian concession on paper). He has no interest in how this sounds in a context of Israeli experience. Still, it is only an idea, not a demand. Nothing is going to happen and the Obama Administration isn’t going push for this plan.
But where Obama is doing real harm is not in some theoretical plan that won’t be implemented but in his acceptance, in practice, of a Fatah-Hamas government. That the United States would accept the entry into government of an openly antisemitic, genocidal group that openly calls for Israel’s destruction without even cutting off all U.S. aid immediately is a betrayal of Israel and all the concessions it has made as part of the “peace process” since 1993.
The whole idea was that the West would help a Palestinian regime that recognized Israel and rejected the use of terrorism. Whatever one can say about Fatah, there is no question that Hamas has failed to meet this test and will not change its approach.
Since President Obama won’t even try to use his influence to keep Hamas out of government, he cannot be relied on for anything.
Now we come to the big controversy which, in light of all the above, is a relatively minor problem. Obama said:
“I believe 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.”
All this says is that Israel must agree to any proposed borders or they won’t be drawn. Obama does not imply how big the changes might be and this doesn’t rule out Israel incorporating settlement blocs, as the Obama administration promised to do in October 2009. Far from demanding that Israel return to the 1967 borders, that sentence really leaves the issue open.
I don’t believe that Obama “hates” Israel. I think he has zero comprehension of Israel and isn’t interested in learning more. In addition, he has zero warm feelings toward the country. Thus, he is callously indifferent to its problems, needs, and interests. Obama has given Israel ample reason to mistrust him, and that is why the “borders” sentence has become such a big deal.
But the big problem is his failure to recognize the threat of revolutionary Islamism to Israel and others; his deliberate blindness toward the radicalism that still dominates Palestinian politics, ignorance about what Turkey’s Islamist regime is doing, and weakness toward America’s enemies. These all injure Israel indirectly, as well as America’s Arab allies and also the Iranian and Turkish people.
So, yes, Obama’s policy is disastrous but not because he is attacking Israel directly or abandoning the traditional relationship. It’s a catastrophe because his policy hurts all of America’s allies, strengthens revolutionary Islamists, and throws away basic U.S. interests in the region.
A second article by Prof. Rubin that I would recommend is “Obama at AIPAC – beneath the flattery he revealed his indifference to Israel“:
There are some remarkable Freudian slips in his formulations and they have nothing to do with his discussion of the framework for Israel-Palestinian peace.
He spoke at great length of his support for Israel, how he wants it to be strong and secure, and the common values of the two countries. Yet if he really thinks that, why didn’t he say such things in his State Department speech on the Middle East or elsewhere?
I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”
Yet his regional policies have undermined Israel’s security:
–Without getting anything from Hamas (the group that shoots rockets at Sderot) he pressed Israel to reduce sanctions against Hamas, helped bring into power a pro-Hamas government in Egypt, and sent $400 million in U.S .taxpayer money that objectively strengthens the Hamas regime.
–By not actively opposing Hizballah and Syria taking over Lebanon, thus increasing the threat on Israel’s northern border.
–By waiting so long before he moved on Iran sanctions and by failing to support the Iranian democratic opposition.
–By acting as apologist for the Syrian terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship.
–By not keeping U.S. promises to Israel on countering Hizballah’s return to southern Lebanon and arms’
–By helping create a situation in Egypt that will definitely lead to a radical, anti-American, anti-Israel takeover and probably leading to an Islamist regime there.
–By becoming an apologist and booster of the most anti-Israel (and Islamist) Turkish government ever he has done nothing to help Israel deal with the enmity of its closest regional ally. Obama quickly capitulated to the Gaza flotilla.
–By never really criticizing or pressuring the Palestinian Authority on anything at all, even when it rejected his initiatives, broke its promises to him, or made him look foolish. Consider Vice-President Joe Biden’s temper tantrum about a Jerusalem zoning board okaying a construction project in the distant future to the administration’s basic indifference to ongoing PA incitement and the naming of things against terrorists who murdered Israelis.
That’s not a complete list.
As you already know, the Obama administration has distinguished itself by the minimum it has done regarding Iran’s repression of the democratic opposition. And how has the U.S. government stood up to Hizballah? In fact, it has most definitely NOT stood up to Hizballah.
In principle, Obama’s idea that we must do something quick to resolve the Israel-Palestinian issue because of current conditions (I’ve been hearing that exact line for 40 years) sounds nice. In practice, though, here’s what it amounts to: The Palestinians are intransigent. They should not be punished. Israel must make more concessions.
Obama doesn’t take the Hamas threat seriously, nor does he take a real tough line on incitement. The only thing he presses the PA on is that it should talk, not that it should give.
Think about how this is totally in contradiction to the history we lived through. The march to isolate Israel internationally will continue no matter what Israel does, whether it is involved in talks or now. Why? Because the goal of those behind it—mainly the Western leftists and Islamists—is to destroy Israel.
Again, though, there’s a Freudian slip here. For Obama’s failure to recognize the motivation means he doesn’t understand the problem. And Obama has contributed to the delegitimization of Israel. What’s he saying here: Israel hasn’t given enough and made enough concessions to move the peace process forward and that’s the reason for growing hostility to Israel.
That means he doesn’t realize the sacrifices Israel has made for the cause of peace: withdrawing from Sinai, southern Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank; losing more than 2000 people murdered by terrorism; and so on.
Israelis have drawn the precise opposite conclusion. If years of demonstrating our desire for peace, making concessions, taking risks, and empathizing with Palestinian suffering has only intensified the hostility toward us, perhaps that hostility isn’t our fault and is due to something else.
On that point, Obama is totally clueless. For him, Israel still needs to prove it wants peace. But the PA doesn’t.
One more Freudian slip. Israel isn’t doing enough to keep the Palestinians to abandon negotiations. So the fact that the PA doesn’t want to make true peace is…Israel’s fault once again.
Incidentally, can you imagine Obama talking about how Palestinian and Arab behavior might create an “impulse” of Israel “to abandon negotiations”? Of course not.
Obama can quote the Talmud but he can’t deal with the impending catastrophe in Egypt. How can he speak at AIPAC and not mention that the most important country in the Arab world is moving quickly to tear up its peace treaty with Israel, end sanctions on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and create a massive new security problem for Israel! A fitting symbol of his total indifference about, “How difficult that search for security can be.”
On the surface, President Obama’s speech to AIPAC will reassure many about his care and commitment to Israel. Yet a careful reading of the speech shows the exact opposite.
A third and final article that I would recommend to keep you busy over the weekend is “Why the issue of land landed Obama in trouble with Israel“.
Obama limited Israel’s leverage in two ways:
1. The 1967 borders with presumably minor changes.
2. Israel must also give territory in order to claim any parts of the West Bank. While Israel had mentioned the possibility of swaps now it is mandatory.
It isn’t as if nobody has thought of these two points before. But up until now that was the way negotiations might end. What Obama has now done is to make this the starting point. Within hours of his speech, the PA demanded that Israel must accept the 1967 borders (with no changes) before it would negotiate!
So objectively, Obama’s position has hurt any prospects for peace or even…holding talks at all.
Why then are people up in arms on that sentence? First, journalists and “experts” are lazy and didn’t read or analyze the full speech. It is easier to repeat what everyone else is saying.
Second, almost unnoticed has been the truly shocking peace plan proposed by Obama:
Step one: Israel withdraws from (all?) the West Bank in exchange for paper security guarantees by the PA.
Step two: The two sides negotiate remaining issues.
Do you realize the implications? If Israel pulls out of all of the West Bank isn’t it going back to the 1967 borders? Supposedly, this is temporary, pending a comprehensive agreement? Ha-ha.
In other words, Israel will give up real assets in exchange for promises made by a counterpart (which includes Hamas which has made clear it won’t accept anything less than Israel’s extinction!) and guaranteed by a (former?) great power whose leader has a record of not keeping promises.
And an interesting coda at the end of this article:
The real difference between Obama and George Bush in terms of their personal quality as presidents is that when Bush said or did something dumb or dangerous he was denounced by media and opinion makers. When Obama does the same thing, he’s praised for his brilliance.