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Obama’s Full-Court Press on Israel

The administration continues to press the border issue despite no sign from the Palestinians that they are willing to negotiate.

by
P. David Hornik

Bio

June 18, 2011 - 12:00 am

These words were spoken by Binyamin Netanyahu in his photo-op with Barack Obama after their May 20 meeting:

…while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible…. Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.

So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines….

We’ve been around for almost 4,000 years…. We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions….

And now it falls on my shoulders as the prime minister of Israel…to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because…we don’t have a lot of margin for error. And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.

He reiterated the message to Congress on May 24 to ringing bipartisan applause. A subsequent poll revealed that 77 percent of Israelis oppose a withdrawal to the “1967 borders” (actually the 1949 armistice lines, devoid of any political significance).

Yet, heartfelt, eloquent, and humanly impressive as Netanyahu’s words to Obama on May 20 were, the latter reportedly responded afterward by going into a rage and shouting: “What the f—k was that?” Whether or not that’s accurate, Obama’s ensuing political behavior clearly manifests his attitude toward Netanyahu’s, and the Israeli people’s, acute concern about the territorial aspect of their security: total contempt.

That was evident at the G8 meeting on May 27, when Obama and all the other leaders present — except Canada’s Stephen Harper, who foiled the move — sought to include a mention of Israel’s 1967 borders in the meeting’s final communiqué. And it continues to be evident in the current flurry of diplomatic activity in Jerusalem and Ramallah, in which “the American officials [Middle East envoy David Hale and Middle East adviser Dennis Ross] are …promoting … Obama’s initiative to base renewed negotiations on the June 4, 1967, lines with agreed land swaps.”

In doing so, the U.S. is trying to head off the Palestinians’ aim to declare a state unilaterally at the UN in September. Although the U.S. is expected to veto the attempt in the Security Council, leaving the Palestinians with a nonbinding but still significant endorsement by the General Assembly, Obama is clearly unhappy about the prospect of such a veto. So, as an enticement to return to negotiations with Israel instead of the unilateral route, he’s offering the Palestinians what Netanyahu and the Israeli people consider to be Israel on a platter:  “negotiations” where Israel commits to indefensible borders in advance.

Obama is, moreover, doing this at a time when Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Fatah-aligned Palestinian Authority, is supposed to finalize next week its unity government with Hamas, which the U.S. (along with Canada and the EU) officially defines as a terrorist organization.

No doubt Hale and Ross are making last-ditch efforts to dissuade the PA leaders from taking that step, just as the U.S. hopes to dissuade them from going to the UN in September. The problem is that, under Obama, that effort takes the form of bribery and appeasement at an ally’s expense.

As Obama said in his supposedly conciliatory speech to AIPAC on May 22:

There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.

These are the words of someone so deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians that he can’t really take them to account for anything, ascribing their actions to a frustrated commitment to peace. Not surprisingly, then, Obama endorses their view that any Israeli presence in the lands it obtained in the 1967 war for survival is illegitimate, having shown that by:

  • Telling a Cairo audience that all Israeli “settlements” must stop
  • Creating a severe diplomatic ruckus over Israeli building plans even in “East Jerusalem”
  • Having UN Ambassador Susan Rice excoriate settlements as “illegitimate” last February (as payback for vetoing a Palestinian attempt to get them declared illegal)
  • And now finally “coming clean,” one might say, by making a full Israeli withdrawal from the post-1967 lands the official U.S. position

Note also that Obama’s talk of “swaps” in no way mitigates the gravely anti-Israeli nature of that position, since it means that even for retaining a sacred site like the Western Wall — which is over the 1967 lines — Israel would have to give up something in return. Again, this is the Fatah and Hamas view: that Israel has no inherent right to any of the land that is supposed to be in dispute.

Some say Netanyahu shouldn’t be fazed by the latest pressures since, with Congress opposed to Obama’s tack, they’re more bark than bite. Whether or not Congress can really contain Obama at this point, to think of what he could do in an unfettered second term is chilling.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel.
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