Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic has been leading the charge, echoed by many, not only that Bibi Netanyahu was disrespectful to “my President,” but also that Obama’s statement regarding Israel’s borders in his Middle East speech last Thursday did not represent any meaningful change in U.S. policy.
In the speech Obama stated that a territorial settlement should be based on the (pre-)1967 borders plus agreed-upon land swaps. Goldberg asserts that Netanyahu “picked a fight” with Obama by objecting to Obama’s language.
“The Prime Minister and the Secretary (of State) agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that “the United States believes 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.”
The statement speaks for itself, and does not support those who claim there was no shift.
The 2009 statement simply says that the U.S. hopes Israel and the Palestinians can negotiate a reconciliation between the Palestinian position and the Israeli position. The Palestinian position was “the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps…” That was not the Israeli position or the U.S. position.
So by the plain reading of the statement upon which Goldberg and so many others rely, Obama adopted the Palestinian position. Plain and simple
Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post examined the history of U.S. presidential statements on Israel’s pre-1967 borders (including the statement quoted above) and compared those statements wtih Obama’s Middle East speech, and concluded that Obama went much farther than any prior President (emphasis mine):
In the context of this history, Obama’s statement Thursday represented a major shift. He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a “Palestinian goal” but as U.S. policy. He also dropped any reference to “realities on the ground” — code for Israeli settlements — that both Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton had used. He further suggested that Israel’s military would need to agree to leave the West Bank.
Obama did not go all the way and try to define what his statement meant for the disputed city of Jerusalem, or attempt to address the issue of Palestinians who want to return to lands now in the state of Israel. He said those issues would need to be addressed after borders and security are settled. But, for a U.S. president, the explicit reference to the 1967 lines represented crossing the Rubicon.
There is a complete lack of reality in the attempts by Goldberg and others to excuse Obama’s language.
If Obama did not intend to make a bold statement of new policy, why alert the Israelis to the language before the speech, why debate whether to include the language until the last minute, and why include it as the focal point of the part of the speech relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
It was an important shift, as such shifts often come by carefully worded statements which move the ball in one direction or another. Obama intended to move the ball in the direction of the 1967 borders with few exceptions, and almost everyone knew that’s what he was doing.
One can take a position of agreement with Obama’s shift, but that is a whole different argument. But please don’t insult us by saying there was no shift.
Update: A commenter argues that Bush made a similar statement in 2008, links to a video, and demands an apology. Nice try, but demanding apologies doesn’t make the commenter right. Listen to Bush, all he said was that a final settlement would have to be negotiated between the parties based on “mutually agreed adjustments” to the 1949 border “to reflect current realities.”
That is the formulation reflected in Bush’s 2004 security assurances: “It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” See my prior post, Hey, Israel, Those Territorial Assurances Were From Bush Not Me. It was Netanyahu’s reliance on Bush’s 2004 assurances which caused Goldberg and others to accuse Netanyahu of being disrespectful. The Bush formulation is not the same as the Palestinian position of “1949 plus land swaps.”