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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yes, Obama Did Attempt To Shift U.S. Policy On The Pre-1967 Borders

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.

In support of this argument, Goldberg cites the following statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry regarding a meeting in 2009 between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu (emphasis mine) :
"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."
This seems to be a favorite statement of those insisting that Obama's Middle East speech was no big deal.  It was linked by Andrew Sullivan and by a troll in the comments here.

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."

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  1. It's possible, you know that Obama misread the statement referred to by Goldberg. It's really hard to imagine that he is all that epty at parsing sentences. (Reading, yes, parsing, no.)

  2. You know that every word of that speech was parsed to the nth degree prior to delivery. This guy is as Machiavellian as they come, and he said what he said very deliberately. He still believes his own press clips and thinks that the Arab world is just waiting to make peace with Israel. Dangerously naïve.

  3. Have to love that Alinsky schooling. That goes for Hillary as well.

    For good measure, toss in Black Theology, Chicago'ism, dash of Islam. Ta-Da.

    Deceitfulness, hallmark of this administration aided by the still fawning media.

  4. But what about the word "contiguous" which was used in obama's statement??? Been no mention of that word by the talking heads, and the use of "contiguous" is new. I fear that we have not heard the last of "contiguous" from the obama administration....

  5. I would hate to accuse anyone here of outright lying, so I will just assume that you are simply ignorant of the facts.

    George W Bush, as president, used the exact same formulation as did Obama.

    This is a totally phony, made up controversy. Apologies are in order.

  6. @Tano

    That video is an obvious hack job. The reason it was clipped was to cut out some other very important parts of President Bush's speech, the content of which are exactly what Prof Jacobson addressed in his article above. (Did you even read his post?)

    What's the key part that your 'source' snipped out:
    "It is vital that each side understands that satisfying the other's fundamental objectives is key to a successful agreement. Security for Israel and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interests of both parties.

    Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides."

    I wonder why they would drop that?

    Simple, because the President's speech he makes no reference to concessions by the Palestinians and instead sets the Palestinian goal as the 'starting point' for negotiations.

    "Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: 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 Israelis and Palestinians.

    Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table."

    Basically the President is leaving the Israeli objectives up for negotiations while setting the Palestinian objectives as a starting place. And that is a change.

    If you continue on with President Bush's speech he goes on to address what I consider his preconditions for negotiations:
    "I reaffirm to each leader that implementation of any agreement is subject to implementation of the road map. Neither party should undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations. On the Israeli side that includes ending settlement expansion and removing unauthorized outposts. On the Palestinian side that includes confronting terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure."

    Can you not see a fundamental shift in U.S. Policy here, or are you going to judge two very long speeches based on a 15 second sound bite that you found on YouTube?

    So are apologies in order from you now?

  7. @DrJim77

    In all fairness, Bush did use the word "contiguous" in his 2008 speech.

  8. Somehow I think we Americans have been chasing our tail, so to speak. We've been going after this discrete irritant and that, metaphorically our own tail, and not seen the large, quite simple picture: that we're under siege by an array of state-sponsored terrorists. Not non-state individuals or non-state groups. Tactical teams sponsored by nation states. To include AQ and all the rest, and the "imams." Rather of lot of them, actually. All state-sponsored. And we haven't even begun to hear about Chinese teams busy everywhere.

    Now Israel has the leader cadre of a state that cadre made terrorist giving her the stink eye. This is new, both the stink eye at Israel and the USA made terrorist.

    A Baathist-like regime (secular, shi'ite, sectarian, socialist) has overtaken the USA Executive. French socialism in hip-hop. Will the perversions of the French Revolution never be a stakeholder, in the heart?

    There is no such thing as non-state terrorism or non-state bad actors. No a-symmetrical warfare. It's all state-on-state.

    Any unpleasantness going down is state-sponsored terrorism with an hegemonistic goal. And this one against Israel by this state is new.

    Curious this terrorist regime chose to reveal it now. It's been in their kit bag for decades. I suspect they're vacillating between feeling powerful and vulnerable and so their actions are abrupt and, while true to deepest intent, impulsive without poise. Time to impeach, before more bodies get molested or loaded with lead. A legal insurrection.

  9. I would add "jihad," "religious extremism," etc. to the list of things that aren't, that are in fact state-sponsored terrorism in service of some state-denominated hegemonistic goal. Words like jihad and ismalism keep us chasing our tails, so to speak, avoiding sight of the nation states motivating it all.

    Sure there is ideology, but it's from state-supported "scholars" and "imams" who get paid head count for recruits to the teams states supporting them want to do this or that. And the recruits get jacked up on ideology, no doubt, but as much or more on women, boys, food, money, drugs, weapons, physical conditioning, entre, yearning for adventure and glory, status, etc.

    Look at it in cold sober terms: the requirements of states/regimes intending self-promotion vice the resources of private individuals and groups. States need teams of operators not easily traceable to them, at least in the early stages of whatever it is they have in mind to accomplish. Neither individuals nor groups have resources sufficient to field or maintain self-directed teams over time. e.g., AQ.

    "Jihad" is good brainwashing but, like all ideologies, it is insufficient to sustain personal, group or national impulses for self-promotion. No, the inducements available to only nation-states are sufficient to sustain activities heretofore myopically ascribed to "terrorist groups."

    Every bit of crap we're seeing thrown about is nation on nation. Does the current regime's occupation of the White House derive from foreign national operations, state on state?

  10. That all depends on your definition of "meaningful change in policy". Since Israel is telling Obama to fold it until it is all sharp corners and shove it up his ass sideways, it is not a "meaningful change" in policy.