All Right, Let's Get This Obama-Israel Thing Sorted Out
I confess to having felt a pang of sympathy for President Obama this morning when I read that Hamas had attacked him (verbally, I hasten to add; their rockets don't reach that far) for clarifying his position on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to AIPAC. Every time he opens his mouth on the subject, somebody clobbers him. Guy can't catch a break.
I've heard tell that Obama was urged before his Thursday night speech (the first one, the one that referenced the 1967 borders) to for God's sake keep his mouth shut about Israel and the Palestinians and stick to the promoting-change-in-the-Arab-world-hearkening-to-the-voices-of-the-people-as-they-defy-tyranny playbook, but that he insisted on wedging his oar in. Conversely, there's chatter that he didn't want to touch Israel with a ten-foot pole (to which his photo ops with Bibi would attest) but was strong-armed into doing so by Hillary Clinton, the video of which one hopes will show up one day on YouTube.
The response to the speech runs the gamut from "take it easy folks, nothing new here, move along" (the Berlinski view) to "Obama is Arafat incarnate" (the Danon view). So which is it, Ricochet readers? Who's right?
Let's work it out.
Claire is entirely correct when she says that Obama knows the significance of every word he uses; the selection of words like "contiguous" is therefore not sloppy or accidental. She contends, however, that the words are in fact empty of meaning, because negotiations under current conditions are impossible anyway. But if it's all just theater, why make the speech at all? Or if a speech must be made about the region, why bring us up? Or if we must be brought up, why deliberately select language that will undermine our position and embolden the other side to be even more intransigent?
It's true that the 1967 lines are not a new idea. What's significant about their mention in this context is the weight it gives to our purported obligation to be "bold" (that is, conciliatory) relative to the other side's obligation to demonstrate the sincerity of its desire to make peace with us. I found that emphasis disappointing in light of recent strategic decisions taken by the other side: Fatah's realignment with Hamas, its touting of a plan to unilaterally declare statehood at the UN in September, and the publication of an editorial by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in The New York Times in which he states explicitly that the Palestinians plan to use their newfound status to attack Israel more effectively, rather than forge a lasting peace.
Obama did mention the Fatah-Hamas realliance, via an allusion rather than a direct reference, and to his credit did state his opposition to the statehood declaration. He did not, however, state that Fatah needs to take any steps to repair the damage it has caused to the peace process. He acknowledged that we cannot reasonably be expected to negotiate with people who won't recognize our right to exist, but stopped short of saying that Fatah must therefore prove its good faith by divorcing itself from Hamas. The only action called for was demanded of us, not them.
Bear in mind that Obama knows full well how to use words to shove diplomacy in one direction or another. In May 2009, he surprised Israel by stating that he expected us to stop settlement construction in the West Bank. With that statement, he legitimized the Palestinians' use of a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations -- even though the sides had agreed to negotiate without preconditions. By bringing up the 1967 borders on Thursday night, even in the hedged way he did (viz., the reference to land swaps), he is enabling the Palestinians to make the 1967 lines the required starting point. It's not the Palestinians' policy; it's Obama's policy now.
But if all this is true, is Likud MK Danny Danon correct to say that Obama has adopted Arafat's plan for Israel's destruction in stages?
Not necessarily. Or, to be more precise: not intentionally.
Obama may well believe that the return of the territory taken in 1967 -- a reset, basically, that would push into irrelevance the Arab aggression that started the 1967 war in the first place and all their subsequent aggressions against Israel -- will cause peace to reign supreme. This would be a curious supposition, in light of the complete failure of the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza to extinguish or even mitigate the jihadist fervor of her enemies, but Obama does appear, for better or worse, to be largely guided by ideals rather than realities.
The Europeans certainly support the land-for-peace extortion (sorry, formulation), but there is, shall we say, some reason to doubt their unanimous enthusiasm for the continued good health of the state of Israel. While their motives are suspect, I'd say there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that Obama too would welcome the complete dismantling of Israel. Call me naive, but I'm willing to accept that he is acting in good faith.
With that said, the premise of a 1967 reset could well lead, intentionally or otherwise, to Israel's destruction by slices. The best that can be said of Obama's speech, and I believe this is Claire's view, is that it was nothing more than political Kabuki -- that we all know negotiations are not possible right now anyway, so it doesn't matter what's said. The worst is that it's part of a plot to lop off enough of Israel to make her indefensible in preparation for the coup de grâce. My take: a few steps to the right of center between those two views. Which is fitting, now that I think of it: a downright Ricochetian position.