On the eve of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, President Obama chose to deliver a speech outlining his views on conditions in North Africa and Israel. His comments on Israel set off a fire storm when he attempted to define the negotiated borders for any Israeli/Palestinian peace talks as beginning with their 1967 borders.
Here are his words:
“We 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.”
The criticism was so immediate and so loud that the President was forced to walk back his remarks several days later in another speech before members of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in which he said:
“[I]t was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means.”
“By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.” [Emphasis mine]
The President continued:
“If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately…the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israelis, and Palestinians since at least the Clinton Administration.”
Unfortunately the President is being disingenuous. First, it does not take a careful reading of both statements to see that “based on” and “different than” do not mean the same thing. That is substance. Second, previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have known that it is necessary to keep some matters private. Not only did the President yield a negotiating point by declaring the starting point for the negotiations but it is not the place of the U.S. to dictate any conditions for talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The President would have been wiser had he remained silent.
Even the Left chimed in with considerable criticism. Senator Harry Reid, of all people, the Senate majority leader and the country’s most powerful Democrat chastised the President with these remarks at the AIPAC meeting:
[Any peace deal will be decided] “…by the parties at the center of the conflict and nowhere else,” and he continued, “No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or anything else.”
When Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the American Congress yesterday he took the high road. He started off by praising the killing of bin Laden and went on to commend the enduring friendship between our two countries. He laid out the Israel position for achieving a peaceful two-state solution to the problem. He called on Fatah to tear up its accord with Hamas, calling the group which controls the Gaza Strip (i.e. Hamas) the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda. He also included two of the most contentious points separating the sides. He stated that the issue of Palestinian refugees must be resolved outside the borders of Israel and that “Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”
His speech was roundly received with numerous loud standing ovations.
Of course not everyone was pleased.
Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu’s speech indicated how unwilling the Israeli leader was to make peace. “We’ve not heard any new words in Netanyahu’s speech in front of congress tonight. He’s chosen to dictate, not negotiation,” he said. “He can make peace with congress, but at the end of the day in terms of everything he said tonight he has proven that we don’t have a partner for peace in Israel.”
Peace in the Middle East has eluded all who have attempted to negotiate a settlement. Perhaps the closest anyone has gotten was the signing of the Camp David Accords of 1978 under then President Jimmy Carter’s leadership for which Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shared the Noble Peace Prize.
No peace resulted however. President Sadat was assassinated shortly thereafter by members of radical Muslim extremist groups some of which are attempting to gain power in Egypt even as you read this.
Ah, the beautiful blossoming of the “Arab Spring.”
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