President Obama strengthens the Palestinians' negotiating position, but Netanyahu wins Congress's support for Israel
Dear Friend of Israel, Friend of FLAME:
Since I last wrote to you, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the combined houses of the U.S. Congress and received upwards of 30 standing ovations for his articulation of Israel's commitment to its U.S. alliance, its opposition to Islamic terrorism and its position on negotiations with the Palestinians. Above all, he reminded us that Israel is the best friend by far the U.S. has in the Middle East. (You can and should view the video of Netanyahu's masterful speech here.)
Congress's support of Netanyahu was a stunning, full-throated repudiation of the principles President Obama laid out in his May 22 "State Department speech," in which he prescribed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the infamous "1967 borders"---armistice lines following Israel's war of independence against invading Arab states.
Netanyahu made it clear to Congress that such borders were indefensible in 1949 and continue to be life-threatening now. But the President was not just handing out a bit of gratuitous bad advice to Israel. In fact, he was making life much more difficult for the Jewish state in terms of any possible negotiations with the Palestinians, since he effectively took a bargaining chip away from Israel and gave it to the Palestinians, while asking nothing in return from the Arabs. (He also made Israel's PR job with the rest of the world more challenging.)
Unfortunately, we've seen this misguided pattern in the past: Last year Mr. Obama demanded that Israel stop building settlements on its western border as a condition for peace negotiations---something even the Palestinians had not insisted on. But once the President demanded it, the Palestinians were forced to raise the ante as well. Likewise, the Palestinians had not previously insisted on the unrealistic '67 lines as a pre-condition for negotiations, but they do now. They certainly can't afford to appear less Palestinian than Mr. Obama.
In short, by trying to impose such unreasonable negotiating demands on Israel, Obama has effectively killed the peace process for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness, the U.S. Congress supports Israel and Mr. Netanyahu to a far greater extent than the President.
To help you and your friends, family and colleagues understand the full impact of Obama's invoking the "1967 borders," this week's FLAME Hotline features an outspokenly critical opinion piece by Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer.
As you know, Israel is literally under attack on all sides. We must increase efforts to insist that President Obama stand by Israel. We cannot allow the declaration of a Palestinian state in the United Nations in September, and we must insist that the U.S. veto any attempt by the Palestinians to have one imposed unilaterally on the region. I would urge you, using the Forward to a Friend button below, to pass Mr. Krauthammer's definitive article to your family, friends and associates. Israel needs us now, and this is one important way you can help.
What Obama Did to Israel
How the President's "State Department" speech makes life more difficult for Israel and ruins any hope for peace talks with the Palestinians
Every Arab-Israeli negotiation contains a fundamental asymmetry: Israel gives up land, which is tangible; the Arabs make promises, which are ephemeral. The long-standing American solution has been to nonetheless urge Israel to take risks for peace while America balances things by giving assurances of U.S. support for Israel's security and diplomatic needs.
It's on the basis of such solemn assurances that Israel undertook, for example, the Gaza withdrawal. In order to mitigate this risk, President George W. Bush gave a written commitment that America supported Israel absorbing major settlement blocs in any peace agreement, opposed any return to the 1967 lines and stood firm against the so-called Palestinian right of return to Israel.
For 21/2 years, the Obama administration has refused to recognize and reaffirm these assurances. Then last week in his State Department speech, President Obama definitively trashed them. He declared that the Arab-Israeli conflict should indeed be resolved along "the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps."
Nothing new here, said Obama three days later. "By definition, it means that the parties themselves—Israelis and Palestinians—will negotiate a border that is different" from 1967.
It means nothing of the sort. "Mutually" means both parties have to agree. And if one side doesn't? Then, by definition, you're back to the 1967 lines.
Nor is this merely a theoretical proposition. Three times the Palestinians have been offered exactly that formula, 1967 plus swaps—at Camp David 2000, Taba 2001, and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations. Every time, the Palestinians said no and walked away.
And that remains their position today: The 1967 lines. Period. Indeed, in September the Palestinians are going to the United Nations to get the world to ratify precisely that—a Palestinian state on the '67 lines. No swaps.
Note how Obama has undermined Israel's negotiating position. He is demanding that Israel go into peace talks having already forfeited its claim to the territory won in the '67 war—its only bargaining chip. Remember: That '67 line runs right through Jerusalem. Thus the starting point of negotiations would be that the Western Wall and even Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter are Palestinian—alien territory for which Israel must now bargain.
The very idea that Judaism's holiest shrine is alien or that Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter is rightfully or historically or demographically Arab is an absurdity. And the idea that, in order to retain them, Israel has to give up parts of itself is a travesty.
Obama didn't just move the goal posts on borders. He also did so on the so-called right of return. Flooding Israel with millions of Arabs would destroy the world's only Jewish state while creating a 23rd Arab state and a second Palestinian state—not exactly what we mean when we speak of a "two-state solution." That's why it has been the policy of the United States to adamantly oppose this "right."
Yet in his State Department speech, Obama refused to simply restate this position—and refused again in a supposedly corrective speech three days later. Instead, he told Israel it must negotiate the right of return with the Palestinians after having given every inch of territory. Bargaining with what, pray tell?
No matter. "The status quo is unsustainable," declared Obama, "and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace."
Israel too? Exactly what bold steps for peace have the Palestinians taken? Israel made three radically conciliatory offers to establish a Palestinian state, withdrew from Gaza and has been trying to renew negotiations for more than two years. Meanwhile, the Gaza Palestinians have been firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages. And on the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turns down then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer, walks out of negotiations with Binyamin Netanyahu and now defies the United States by seeking not peace talks but instant statehood—without peace, without recognizing Israel—at the United Nations. And to make unmistakable this spurning of any peace process, Abbas agrees to join the openly genocidal Hamas in a unity government, which even Obama acknowledges makes negotiations impossible.
Obama's response to this relentless Palestinian intransigence? To reward it—by abandoning the Bush assurances, legitimizing the '67 borders and refusing to reaffirm America's rejection of the right of return.
The only remaining question is whether this perverse and ultimately self-defeating policy is born of genuine antipathy toward Israel or of the arrogance of a blundering amateur who refuses to see that he is undermining not just peace but the very possibility of negotiations.