Israel cannot be dissuaded from the course that it has quietly, at times even subconsciously pursued for 40 years. While it talked peace and at times honestly pursued peace, it has also continued to build settlements with the ultimate goal of swallowing all of the West Bank into its borders regardless of the consequences. Although millions of Israelis understand that those consequences might very well include the loss of Israel itself, there is no sign that the Israelis as a people can bring themselves to alter course.
The consensus necessary for peace is also missing among the Palestinians. For decades, they have clung to their own false dream of Israel’s abolition, and to the idea that such a feat could be accomplished through violence. It was blind, romantic foolishness, and they have reaped a bitter harvest for it. Today, after years of confrontation with a far superior military, many Palestinians have finally come to accept how foolish that dream really was. But a sizable Palestinian minority clings to that foolishness still, and a sizable minority is all that is needed to make peace is impossible.
In fact, looking back, the Middle East situation looks more and more like a cosmic case of very bad timing. In the years when Israel might still have been convinced to give up its dream and trade land for peace, the Palestinians were too blinded by their sense of victimhood and thirst for revenge to accept. Now that situation is reversed. With “Eretz Israel” seemingly almost within their grasp, it is Israel that is befuddled by its dreams, and even if the Palestinians were to somehow reach consensus among themselves, I do not believe they would find a willing partner. The moment, if it ever existed, has been lost.
Now, maybe I’m wrong about all that. Maybe years of watching American presidents and Israeli prime ministers and Palestinian leaders pretend to negotiate with no real intention of compromise have fed a misplaced cynicism and fatalism on my part. So let’s look at the situation as if that were the case and that hope of a two-state solution remains alive.
Most of the attention created by Obama’s speech yesterday has focused on his statement that “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.” Mitt Romney immediately claimed that Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus,” while Danny Danon, a leader of Israel’s Likud Party, responded by saying that “Barack Hussein Obama adopted the staged plan for Israel’s destruction of Yasser Arafat.”
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visits Washington today, released a statement explaining that on his arrival, Netanyahu “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004.”
He expects it.
It’s rather a remarkable thing. Major leaders in Israel, a nation entirely reliant on the United States economically, militarily and diplomatically, feel free to insult the American president and publicly dictate to him what they expect him to say. “Chutzpah” doesn’t begin to describe it. They play a dangerous game.
Obama’s statement regarding the 1967 borders is in fact merely a restatement of longstanding American policy. Again, he proposed the ‘67 boundaries as a starting point, not as a final imposed settlement, “with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” That is precisely the solution that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin publicly agreed to in 1993, and that Arafat initially accepted but then rejected. (Two years later, remember, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist as retribution for agreeing to any surrender of territory. That assassin is still hailed as a hero today by some fringe groups in Israel.
President Barack Obama has officially made the somewhat unpopular U.S. position for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war. The U.S. has previously backed a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on the borders before the war 44 years ago, in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula.
However -- Obama also reiterated unwavering U.S. support for Israel's security, and he endorsed major negotiating positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, including an incremental handover of security responsibilities by Israel when conditions on the ground allow it.
U.S. commitment to Israel's security remains "unshakable," and the president said "every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -- by itself -- against any threat.
"Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security," Obama said, noting the major concerns of Israel in facing a new Palestinian neighbor.
"The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated."
Obama said in a later interview with the BBC that "the basis for negotiations will involve looking at that 1967 border, recognizing that conditions on the ground have changed and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides.
"That's on the one hand and on the other hand, and this was an equally important part of the speech, Israel is going to have to feel confident about its security on the West Bank and that security element is going to be important to the Israelis." Obama said in the interview.