Friday, May 27, 2011

The President and the Prime Minister

The public interchange between the President and the Prime Minister of Israel last week was revealing.   I have included above the entire Obama speech because it should serve as a starting point on where we are on this important set of issues.  My initial impression of the President's speech was that it was poorly timed (being the day before Mr. Netanyahu was going to the US for a visit) and extremely ungracious.   At the same time I felt that it lacked an appreciation for the reality that Israel lives with each day, namely that a good part of the Arab world would like to see Israel disappear.

On the other hand I thought the Prime Minister's speech to Congress had many qualities that Obama's speech lacked - namely while the PM was firm against some of the wrong headed notions of the President's speech - he was gracious to a fault.

The Economist , on the whole, praised the approach in the President's speech by concluding that what he was actually saying is deal with security and territory first and then deal with Jerusalem and refugees at a later point.  I think that is a little off.  I think everyone has recognized that when a viable solution is developed for this set of issues there will very likely be changes in boundaries.  It seems unlikely that those changes will involve having Israel go back to the 1967 borders.   Some like former Congressman Robert Wexler have argued that the President's proposal was "misunderstood."   Others like Rush Limbaugh have suggested that not only was the President not misunderstood but his proposal would be closely akin to having the US agree to recede to its pre-1848 borders. The Hill parsed both the State Department speech (where he said “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.” ) and the AIPAC Speech a few days later where he said "“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. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”   That is a pretty big switch in a couple of days so I believe the Administration realized their error in verbiage (and also in policy) and was trying to recover.

Extricating US policy from the quagmire will take some finesse.  Many in the US and around the world fail to recognize that even with its flaws Israel is the only legitimate democracy in the Middle East.  And that even after seven decades there are still forces in the Arab world who refuse to recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist in the region.   It is unfortunate that, whether he intended it or not, that Obama's State Department speech seemed to forget both of those facts.

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