It all started with Obama in Washington on May 19th at the State Department and ended today with Bibi Netanyahu addressing congress in Washington.
And it’s all about a two-state solution.
A really tense photo-op with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu which looked like a married couple at a party just after a row, desperately trying to convince the guests they still love each other, whilst their body-language says otherwise.
Bibi, unhappy at the ‘1967’ lines thing, gave Obama a bit of a lecture on Jewish history.
Then it was over to AIPAC for Obama, where he clarified what he had just said in the State Department and with Bibi, and spelled out what ‘based on 1967 lines’ means.
All this followed by a quick interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr (who behaved at times like a 13 year old schoolboy interviewing his idol) and a further clarification of what he really meant about 1967 lines. Then across the sea to Ireland for some schmaltzy, easy publicity in Dublin (a great rousing, inspirational speech which Obama is so good at) thence to the UK and, no doubt, more on the two-state solution in the Palace of Westminster tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Bibi arrives in Congress and really lays it on the line and tells it like it is to a rapturous reception.
But what is all the fuss about amidst this flurry of diplomatic activity? What did Obama say that was so wrong?
Here’s a snippet from his State Department speech: (full text here)
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
Nowt wrong there.
The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.
That word ‘occupation’ somehow jangles coming from the mouth of an American President. OK, let’s not get into the legalities but he does seem to be suggesting that Israel does this occupying in an attempt to deny a Palestinian state.
What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
I don’t disagree with that; apparently Bibi doesn’t disagree with that. So who does? Ah – the Palestinians, the Arabs, most of the Muslim world, Iran, Hamas, Hizbollah… get the picture?
Now what appears to be controversial:
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 recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?
Exactly. So why mention the 1967 lines?
Melanie Phillips takes issue with the ‘1967 lines’ as follows:
Obama spoke correctly when he referred to the ‘1967 lines’ rather than ‘borders’. There are no 1967 borders. Israel actually has no borders. All it has are the 1949 ceasefire lines, which is where Israel was left when it fought off the attempt by five Arab armies to exterminate it at birth. These lines were referred to as the ‘Auschwitz borders’ because within them no country could possibly defend itself against its enemies. They left Israel at its narrowest point a mere nine miles wide — as Netanyahu said, less than the Washington Beltway. A return to the 1967 lines would mean exposing Israel once more to the likelihood of destruction, and such a proposal runs counter to the spirit and the letter of UN Resolution 242. True Obama added ‘with land swaps’. But no realistic land swaps could make up for this fatal vulnerability.
But ‘with land swaps’ means that the 1967 lines will not be the border but the starting point of negotiations and it has long been known that ‘with land swaps’ means that the areas along the Green Line such as Gush Etzion will remain part of Israel, the ‘settlements’ in Judea and Samaria which are not contiguous with these borders will be part of Palestine.
According to Melanie the fatal flaw was saying that the 1967 lines were the basis of a ‘settlement’ rather than ‘negotiations’. That’s too nuanced for me. And it doesn’t matter if:
Successive administrations carefully stepped round this minefield in accordance with Resolution 242. It is the Palestinians who talk about returning to the ‘1967 borders’. The sting in what Obama did was to adopt the Palestinian position as US policy. Wrote [Glenn] Kessler: [link]
He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a ‘Palestinian goal’ but as U.S. policy… for a U.S. president, the explicit reference to the 1967 lines represented crossing the Rubicon.
But this is Bibi Netanyahu’s position, it appears, as he said in Congress a few hours ago:
I am saying today something that should be said publicly by anyone serious about peace. In any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. The precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated. We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.
Does it really matter if they are ‘based’ or ‘must be negotiated’. It’s the same thing unless you wilfully misconstrue. Apparently it’s a major shift in US policy. That is, it’s a major shift to say what we already knew. With such subtle nuances no wonder the peace process gets stalled.
The Glenn Kessler Washington Post article quotes Hillary Clinton in 2009:
“We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”
Did Obama really make a policy shift or was it a gaffe? Was it a sop to the Arabs?
So what if Obama says ‘based on’? The facts on the ground are already ‘based on’ the 1967 lines because the major ‘settlements’ around Jerusalem are more or less contiguous area bestriding the Green Line. If you are serious about a viable Palestinian state it cannot look like a moth-eaten bit of Gorgonzola. To be viable it has to be contiguous.
The big threat to any negotiation is the status of Jerusalem.
As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship for all faiths in the city. Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill a solution can be found.
‘Difficult issue’ is right because the 1967 lines (really 1949 ceasefire lines) cut through a hitherto undivided city leaving the eastern section to be ethnically cleansed of its Jewish majority (by the Jordanians) and between 1948 and 1967 the eastern part of the city became what is now termed ‘Arab East Jerusalem’.
This is what Obama had to say:
… the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians
I’m not sure what rights anyone has who has been on the losing side three times, refused a state four times and still claims the whole of Israel as Palestine. Nevertheless, it is clear that a very imaginative solution will have to be reached for Jerusalem because I can’t see the Palestinians ever accepting that it will not be their capital, however absurd such a claim or aspiration is. It is now part of the ‘narrative’ and well-nigh impossible to deracinate from their collective psyche.
Robin Shepherd also takes issue with the ‘1967 lines ‘. He also believes Obama is throwing Israel under ‘the proverbial bus’.
And it all revolves around what ‘based on the 1967 lines’ means again:
No Israeli government — let me rephrase that, no government of any description, anywhere — could accept a peace deal which leaves its people at the mercy of a declared enemy long committed to the state’s destruction.
And that is exactly what the 1967 lines would mean for Israel: Not so much gambling the lives of your children on the kindness of strangers as gambling them on the kindness of people very well known to you who (literally) teach their own children to hate yours.
Well, if that’s the issue with the ‘based on the 1967 lines’ thing then it doesn’t matter where you delineate a Palestinian state because wherever its borders are it’s never going to be very far from Israel. What difference would a few kilometres make to Israel’s security?
In the end then, you can pore over Barack Obama’s speech all you like. You can put this bit of his speech against that bit. You can draw comfort from one part and be concerned by another. You can agonise about what the 1967 borders with land swaps really means. You can pull and push until it sounds innocent enough on the one hand or nothing short of disastrous on the other.
But it’s all an exercise in futility.
This is a president cocooned in delusions about how to deal with tyrannical regimes and the political cultures which underpin them. Obama is an appeaser through and through. And when you read between the lines, that was the message we should draw from yesterday’s speech.
I’m not sure he is an appeaser. Deluded, yes. And this delusion stems from a profound refusal by him and the Europeans and, indeed British PM Cameron and Foreign Secretary Hague, and just about everyone in the Labour Party, to grasp one simple fact:
The current Palestinian leadership has clearly demonstrated that it is not interested in 1967 or 1948 or 1750 or 2012 or any other date. It is only interested in a single, Palestinian state including what is now Israel.
Any and every diplomatic effort it makes to have a unilateral de facto state declared by the UN in September points to this.
The pact with Hamas points to this.
The PA education system with its vicious anti-Semitic vitriol and historical revisionist mythology points to this.
The PA naming squares after terrorist murderers and putting convicted murderers on the PA payroll points to this.
Into this mix is a further US and Western delusion that the Arab Spring, wherever it is, is a bid for western-style democracies even though not one of the the Springers has yet achieved anything resembling democracy.
This delusion ignores the emboldening of elements within these countries to seize an opportunity to attempt to destabilise Israel: in Egypt the threat of ending the peace treaty and cutting of gas supplies, in Tunisia attacks on Jews, in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan mass invasion of Israel’s borders by Palestinians and others claiming they are walking to their homes in ‘Palestine’ when ‘Palestine means pre-1967 Israel.
So the 1967 lines may well be a starting point for negotiations with land swaps, but if Israel insists on all of Jerusalem and no return of so-called refugees, and if the Palestinians are negotiating not for a final settlement, but a stage toward the complete conquest of all of Israel, then the whole process is a non-starter. And, by the way, I agree with that Israeli position, in case you are wondering, but what I am saying is that that position cannot currently be accepted by Palestinians.
The problem for Israel is that powerful allies want to force yet another round of negotiations even though the Palestinian position is hardened and emboldened by Washington and the EU countries who persist in their double-think and delusion that Israel can negotiate with its would-be destroyers.
As Melanie says:
Bottom bottom line: it’s all a pile of steaming irrelevance. The Arabs aren’t going to play anyway. The immediate reason for the nine-decade war thus remains firmly in place. The deeper reason, that the aggressor is indulged and rewarded by the west and thus has every incentive to ratchet up his rejectionism and aggression, also remains firmly in place.
That is what Netanyahu has to address. He has to tell America and Britain that this murderous impasse is their fault — and that only they can end it by refusing for the first time to indulge and reward those committed to the destruction of Israel, the real cause of the continuation of this conflict. Netanyahu did well last Friday. Now he has to turn telling truth to power into a new strategic approach.
Bibi had his chance today in Congress, but I’m not sure it was a ‘new strategic approach’.