Wednesday, May 25, 2011


 I must have heard a different speech by President Obama on the Middle East or read different reports of the speech than most of my fellow-pro-Israel advocates, except those that have not accepted the fact that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require Israel ceding a substantial part of the West Bank for a new Palestinian state.  I understand the uproar amongst those that still hold to a Greater Israel idealogy.  For the rest, which constitute the majority, the almost bitter reaction is difficult to understand.

If I were the Prime Minster of Israel,  I would have pocketed what I liked and spun what I didn't like into something I could live with as a starting point for negotiations. My response to the President would have been something like this:

"We agree with President Obama that any deal must be the end of all claims.  There is no point in having a deal if it does not end the dispute.

We agree with President Obama that a resolution of the dispute requires Israel to be a Jewish state for the Jewish people and Palestine to be another Palestinian state, in addition to the majority-Palestinian state of Jordan.  We recognize, as we are sure the President does, that this requires all Palestinian refugees, and all of their descendents who are often erroneously referred to as refugees, to be resettled in the state of Palestine and not in Israel. 

Since Israel is the Jewish state for the Jewish people, we assume that the President's reference to discussions on the refugee issue is directed at facilitating the settlement of refugees and their descendents from the camps in which they have been kept in Arab countries to the new state of Palestine. We agree to discuss ways to resettle those persons in Palestine.

We agree with President Obama that the new Palestinian state must be demilitarized and we look forward to discussing how we can ensure that it remains demilitarized.

We agree with President Obama that Israeli soldiers can only leave the Jordan Valley when we are absolutely assured of ironclad security.  Given that Iran, Syria, Al Queda, and many other nefarious actors will continue their campaigns against Israel, we anticipate that our presence in the Jordan Valley will be required for many years. 

We agree that peace can only be achieved through the parties at the negotiating table and that going to the U.N. for a resolution supporting the establishment of a state is a no-win proposition.  We appreciate the President's strong opposition to that effort. 

We appreciate the fact that by using the words "1967 lines" the President acknowledged that those lines were not borders recognized by the international community or international law.  They were simply the lines where the fighting stopped after another war for Israel's survival. 

 We agree with the understanding implicit in the President's use of "land swaps" that the eventual borders will not be the 1967 lines.  For legal, historical, and security reasons, every inch beyond the 1967 lines that we might retain does not require a land swap or a swap of equal size, and we appreciate the fact that the President did not assert otherwise.  We agree that how the borders are delineated and when and what size of swaps are required are matters for negotiations, as the President recognized in his speech.

We agree with the President that we cannot be expected to negotiate with Hamas, an organization that is committed to our destruction.  We agree with the President that the Palestinians will have to prove they are worthy partners in peace in order to move forward.  We assume that the President was referring to the criteria the U.S. and the Quartet already laid out:  Hamas must renounce the use of violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and comply with all previous agreements. 

Once the Palestinians agree to all of the conditions and requirements as outlined above, we will be happy to enter negotiations." 

This approach would have avoided a public fight with the President. Ironically, the President is Israel's prime defender against a resolution at the U.N. declaring a Palestinian state.  One would think it wise not to unnecessarily get in a public spat with your chief advocate.

This approach would have put the Palestinians in a very tough position.  It is extremely unlikely that they would accept negotiations based on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and on ending all claims.  They would not have come to the table with those as starting points, and the blame for torpeoding the peace prospects would have been on them. 

If the Palestinian leadership surprised everyone, including their own people and Hamas, and did accept those conditions, then Israelis would have been happy to enter negotiations.  As the Prime Minister said in his speech to Congress, if the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world would accept Israel as the Jewish state, we would be 90 percent on the road to a resolution.

So why did Bibi and much of the pro-Israel community feel the need to focus on arguing that 1967-based boundaries are unacceptable when virtually everyone recognizes that an eventual deal will involve a Palestinian state in much of the West Bank? 

Some of the folks who do not accept the need to give up much of the West Bank believe that Israel should keep Judea and Samaria because it is an integral part of the Jewish homeland, which it is. Many argue that giving up the territory will not result in peace and an end to the Arab war against Israel, so they ask why give up the security it provides and the heritage it encapsulates. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the give-no-ground camp for most of his career. However, he clearly accepted a two-state solution two years ago, and in his speech to Congress he explicitly  indicated that it would require giving up a sizeable chunk of the West Bank. 

Most of the American pro-Israel community long-ago recognized the Palestinian narrative and accepted that another Palestinian state would have to be established as part of a resolution of the conflict.  Indeed, a great frustration is that most Israelis and pro-Israel advocates have accepted this eventuality while the Palestinian leadership has yet to fill their people in on the need for recognizing Israel and for giving up the dream of destroying the Jewish state. 

A good part of the pro-Israel community apparently heard "1967 borders" rather than "1967 lines with land swaps."  They heard it that way because they are sensitive to the issue and because that's the way a lot of the press reported on it.  The press reported on it that way because many of the members of the press are ignorant and do not understand the significance of "lines" and "land swaps." 

Moreover, a fight between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the U.S. at the start of a presidential campaign and with the opening of the AIPAC conference makes for good drama.  It is a lot more exciting to write that story than to write that everyone got along swimmingly.  "1967 borders" quickly became the battle cry and the soldiers lined up. 

As a  pro-Israel advocate that sometimes thinks the Jewish community has gone soft and no longer generates the energy to rally the troops, it is encouraging to see so many get so excited.  Unfortunately, the effort was unnecessary and possibly counter-productive.

As for Bibi, there are several possible reasons for his response.  Perhaps he focused on the reference to "1967 lines" and felt broadsided.  Perhaps he did not count to 30, take a walk around the block, think for a while before reacting.  I hope that's not the reason. I hope he is more thoughtful and deliberate than that.

Some have argued that the Prime Minister had to respond the way he did because, even if everyone knows that a resolution will eventually be close to the 1967 lines, you cannot start bargaining having already given that up. They argue that it is a chit you need to give in return for something.

That is schoolbook negotiating strategy not rooted in the reality of the situation.  As Abba Eban once said, "Once everyone knows your fallback position, you basically have fallen back to it."  Everyone knows that, in a true deal, that is where Israel would be.  The strength in Israel's position is not in pretending otherwise. 

The strength in Israel's position is in having the President on your side and is in the ability to say "No unless I get this, this, and that" or  "Yes, once I get this, this, and that" and sticking to it.  In this regard, the President teed everything up: everyone would know that a final deal would be based on the 1967 lines with swaps but would be dependent on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, an end to all claims, a no-go to the U.N., iron clad security before removal of troops from the Jordan Valley, and a Hamas reincarnation or repudiation by Fatah before beginning negotiations.  It is an extreme understatement to say that it is doubtful that the Palestinians would have ever accepted that set of premises as a starting point for negotiations.

Perhaps Bibi's response was a brilliant stroke of posturing.  Some contend that Bibi's angry and direct response made the President soften his position during his speech to the AIPAC conference. The President clarified that "1967 lines with land swaps" meant that the eventual border would not be the 1967 lines.  Well, wasn't that obvious anyway? Apparently it wasn't to a lot of folks.

The President did explain to the AIPAC audience that his remarks about Hamas meant that Hamas would  have to meet the three conditions laid down by the Quartet. That was a gain, but was it enough of a gain to justify jeopardizing good relations at a time when Israel is counting on the U.S. to thwart the U.N. effort?  Doubtful, especially when Israel probably could have gotten that clarification through quieter lobbying. 

Moreover, it is likely that the President, being a pretty good politician himself, deliberately held something back initially so that he would have something to give the AIPAC crowd to cheer about in addition to the usual proclamations of friendship and assurances of security.  So, perhaps he would have made some of these clarifications in any event.

Finally, there is speculation that Bibi was simply playing to his hometown crowd.  His coalition includes parties that still do not agree to ceding the West Bank and to another Palestinian state, and the theory is that he needed to reassure them that he was not caving in to President Obama's demands. 

That theory seems to fly in the face of the fact that he conceded in his speech to Congress that a Palestinian state will require giving up substantial territory.  And, lo and behold, even though some coalition members, including some members of his own party, have expressed strong displeasure with his statement, no one has yet resigned, threatened to resign, or announced an effort to bring down the government. 

So, it is difficult to figure out what all the uproar was about.  Unfortunately, and unnecessarily, Israel was made to look like the spoiler when, in fact, it is more likely that pigs will fly than that the Palestinians will meet the conditions laid out for them by the President.

One thing should be clear to the world:  The so-called intransigient, right-wing government of Prime Minister Netanyahu is the first Israeli government to suspend the building of "settlements," i.e. communities, in an effort to jump-start negotiations, and it has firmly and explicitly agreed that a Palestinian state should be established on the West Bank. I am under no illusions that the world will give much credence to these facts or that it will demand that the Palestinians agree to President Obama's conditions and enter direct negotiations.

Finally, it should be noted that, if there was a real peace, Israelis would be able to travel to the State of Palestine and visit Jewish holy sites that would be preserved and well-protected.  I would bet on the pigs flying first.



  1. Alan - if you had an opportunity to view the 4-minute standing ovation that greeting the Prime Minister at the joint session of congress, the 29 standing ovations, and the 50 applause lines that were generated by his words - apparently "most folks" in this country have been energized by Bibi's clarity in an upside-down world of dank, anti-Jewish murkiness.

    Pastor Victor
    Christians United For Israel - Eastern Regional Director

  2. Alan,

    The subtle difference between "lines" and "borders" that you rely on didn't last longer than a day. The world, the Palestinians and the Israelis--as well as us simple folks at the AIPAC conference--didn't see the difference between the two words. If there was a difference, Obama didn't choose to point it out at any time following his initial talk to the State Department. Whether the proposed withdrawal was to lines or borders, the practical effect was the same. Any changes would have to be "mutually agreed" which of course would give the Palestinians a veto power that they wouldn't hesitate to use.

    In my view Netanyahu did the right thing to immediately reject that part of Obama's proposal. Like Netanyahu I believe in a two state solution, but a return to the 1967 lines would be a recipe for a repeat of the 1967 war at a later time. Netanyahu stopped that idea promptly before it could become widely accepted. At the same time he went out of his way to praise Obama for the many good things he has done for Israel, while never directly criticizing Obama, only the 1967 aspect of Obama's proposal.

    Ed Rabin

  3. Excellent piece!! Could not agree more.