Israel Political Brief May 23, 2011: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Gives Speech at AIPAC — AIPAC Roundup

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings and JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish Studies at Concordia University.

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

IN FOCUS

  • Reporters’ Notebook: AIPAC 2011: The centerpiece of AIPAC’s annual conference, the gala banquet, is a little like the Oscars: The room is full of celebrities, speeches are interspersed with emotional video montages, the highlight that everyone’s waiting for comes at the end, and the main event is followed by exclusive after-parties.
    There are a few differences, too, of course. Instead of Hollywood’s elite, it’s the political elite that shows up. This year, 67 members of the U.S. Senate and 286 members of the House of Representatives came, along with a smattering of Obama administration officials, Knesset members and diplomats from around the world. Former NBA All-Star Allan Houston helped emcee the evening.
    At the after-parties, instead of inebriated celebs showing off their evening gowns, or what’s under them, Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) hosted parties in conference rooms with kosher brownies and chocolate chip cookies, and the buzz was about the next presidential election.
    And unlike the Oscars, the AIPAC dinner is a little less exclusive: As long as you pay your registration fee, you get a seat at a table. This year as every year, the dinner for 10,000 — approximately 1,500 of whom were bumped to a satellite ballroom — marked the world’s largest single kosher meal. The menu? Stuffed Cornish hen…. – JTA, 5-24-11

THE HEADLINES….

  • Netanyahu to Present Vision for Peace to Congress: Israel’s prime minister said he will present his vision for a secure Israeli-Palestinian peace when he addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday morning.
    Speaking at the annual banquet dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee late netanyahu youtubeMonday night in Washington, Benjamin Netanyahu told the crowd of 10,000, “Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital need for us. Peace would be the realization of a powerful and eternal dream. But it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East.”
    Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the failure to realize peace, saying, “This conflict has raged for nearly a century because the Palestinians refuse to end it. They refuse to accept the Jewish state.”
    While other speakers at Monday’s gala dinner referenced President Obama’s call last week and Sunday for the pre-1967 lines to serve as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Netanyahu did not address that issue. Rather, he stressed some of the points Obama noted in his own speech to AIPAC on Sunday that were welcomed by the largely Jewish audience, including the president’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security.
    “He spoke of that commitment not just in front of AIPAC, but in two speeches heard throughout the Arab world,” Netanyahu said of Obama. “And President Obama has backed those words with deeds. I know these are tough economic times. So I want to thank the president and Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can defend itself by itself.”… – Virtual Jerusalem Post, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu: Israel cannot return to 1967 borders: Israel’s prime minister promised to present his vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace in a speech before U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday, but vowed his country would not return to mid-1967 borders that he termed “indefensible.”
    Benjamin Netanyahu made this pledge in an address Monday to thousands of pro-Israel American Jews and U.S. lawmakers. His speech drew roaring cheers and standing ovations, a sign of the powerful backing he enjoys in the U.S. as the White House pressures him to do more to renew stalled Mideast peacemaking.
    The warm reception Netanyahu enjoyed at the gala dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee contrasted sharply with the contentious quality of some of his recent exchanges with President Barack Obama precisely over border issues…. – AP, 5-24-11
  • Left-wing hecklers interrupt Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC: Activists interrupt the prime minister’s address to the pro-Israel advocacy group and criticize his policies toward the Palestinians.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. on Monday night was interrupted by left-wing protesters who heckled him and criticized his policies toward the Palestinians.
    Protesters from the group Move Over AIPAC, at least some of whom say they are Jewish, stood up, held up banners and made statements criticizing Israeli defense policies…. – Haaretz, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu Says Israel Will Not Return To 1967 Borders: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says his government will not agree to return Israel to the borders it held before 1967′s Six Day War.
    In a speech to pro-Israel lobbyists for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington on May 23, Netanyahu repeated his position that such territorial lines are “indefensible” for current-day Israel. He said he would make this clear in a speech to the U.S. Congress on May 24.
    “Tomorrow, in Congress, I will describe what a peace between a Palestinian state and the Jewish state could look like,” Netanyahu said. “But I want to assure you of one thing: It must leave Israel with security, and therefore Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines.”… – Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu gets his turn to talk to American pro-Israel lobby: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets his chance Monday night to address the main U.S. Jewish lobby when he speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s remarks to the group the day before.
    Obama on Sunday sought to tamp down any controversy over his remarks last week that Israeli- Palestinian negotiations should start from pre-1967 borders and include land swaps. The proposal, a longstanding formulation in peace talks that Obama for the first time expressed as official U.S. policy, was immediately rejected by Netanyahu as unrealistic and prompted criticism from political opponents back home.
    Now Netanyahu will have the final word on the issue, at least for now. He sounded more conciliatory toward Obama after the U.S. president sought to reassure the vital U.S. Jewish lobby on Sunday of his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security while also making clear his desire to kick-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a time when the entire Middle East landscape is changing amid the so-called Arab Spring demonstrations…. – CNN, 5-23-11
  • Netanyahu speech eyed for sign of U.S.-Israel rift: When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Congress on Tuesday, many will be watching to see whether he escalates a war of words with the White House over how to make peace in the Middle East.
    Netanyahu has a mostly sympathetic ear in Congress, where few lawmakers in either party speak up for the Palestinians, hewing to decades of close U.S.-Israeli ties.
    But the Israeli prime minister has had a rocky relationship with President Barack Obama, and last week said the president’s vision of a Palestinian state based on the borders of 1967 could leave Israel “indefensible.”
    Obama articulated that vision on Thursday in a major policy speech on the Middle East. His position essentially embraced the Palestinians’ view that the state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured those territories and East Jerusalem.
    On Sunday Obama seemed to ease Israeli anger somewhat when he made clear that the Jewish state would likely be able to negotiate keeping some settlements as part of a land swap in any final deal with the Palestinians.
    Netanyahu voiced appreciation for those comments, and some analysts think Netanyahu will not further escalate the quarrel with Obama in his remarks to Congress on Tuesday.
    “Netanyahu will most likely try to tone down any perceived differences between his position and the president’s, because his disagreements with President Obama have become counterproductive for both and ultimately undermine Israel’s own interests,” said Haim Malka, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    But Republicans in Congress, including House leaders, are not about to drop their criticism of the Democratic president’s newly articulated Mideast vision.
    House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that Obama’s comments on Middle East borders left “most Americans … just questioning what kind of strategy there is. It doesn’t make sense to force a democratic ally of ours into negotiating with now a terrorist organization” about land swaps…. – Reuters, 5-23-11
  • Bibi present, Jewish groups debate partisanship: A bipartisan meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Blair House today included moments of sharply partisan tension, sources in the room said.
    As Jewish Democrats stressed the need for a united, bi-partisan American conversation on Israel, the chief of a Jewish Republican group reserved the right to attack Democrats who stray from the pro-Israel line in an unusually frank exchange before a foreign leader.
    “The [Republican Jewish Coalition] and [National Jewish Democratic Council] argued between them,” Israeli Embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said. “The Prime Minister stressed bipartisanship … and the importance of keeping Israel a bipartisan issue, as has always been the case.”…
    But the meeting came at a moment of high tension between Netanyahu — and his American Republican alies — and President Barack Obama, with many Republicans in no mood to cede political ground on the charged question of Israel. Obama this week sought to lay out an American baseline for future negotiations…. “Several people in the room, on both sides of the aisle, discussed that Israel cannot become a partisan political issue, that if it becomes so then no one wins and Israel loses,” said Jonathan Beeton, Wasserman Schultz’s communications director. – Politico, 5-23-11
  • Benjamin Netanyahu Has Private Sit Down With Bipartisan Group Of Israel Advocates, Lawmakers: In a relatively rare sign of bipartisan collaboration on the Israel-Palestine conflict, a group of Democratic and Republican advocates and several lawmakers sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for a midday briefing.
    The meeting — which was planned nearly a week ago but remained unknown to the press — featured officials with both the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the National Democratic Jewish Council (NJDC), two groups often at polar ends of the debate over U.S. policy in the the Middle East. Additionally, an aide familiar with the meeting told The Huffington Post that Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel — two of the highest-ranking Jewish members of Congress — were present. Wasserman Schultz’s office confirmed her attendance.
    “It’s safe to say that the conversation taking place in the room is about the bi-partisan support for Israel,” said the aide.
    “While we don’t see eye to eye with the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition on many domestic policies, when it comes to the need for a powerfully strong U.S.-Israel relationship, on this we agree,” read a statement from Marc R. Stanley, chairman of the NJDC and David A. Harris, president and CEO of the NJDC. “We welcome this opportunity to place partisanship aside and discuss ways we can work together to help our close ally Israel — just as we strive every day to keep Israel from being used as a partisan wedge issue in the political arena. As we’ve said repeatedly, the stakes are too high for such antics.”… – Huff Post, 5-23-11
  • At AIPAC, effort to shift focus back to agenda: Iran, foreign aid, Capitol Hill relationships: Let’s get past this U.S.-Israel relationship thing, so we can get on with important stuff, like the U.S.-Israel relationship.
    That seemed to be the message this week at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
    With a record 10,000 people and both the U.S. and Israeli leaders in attendance — plus 67 U.S. senators and 286 members of the U.S. House of Representatives at the gala dinner on Monday night — this AIPAC parley was the biggest and in many ways the most impressive ever.
    After the bickering last week between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, AIPAC leaders were keen to focus on what they had hoped would be the headline-makers for this conference: Yanking the public’s attention back to Iran after months of distraction by the so-called Arab Spring, and bludgeoning the Palestinian Authority with the threat of isolation if it presses forward with its inclusion of Hamas and its quest for statehood recognition at the United Nations in September.
    The other agenda item for the AIPAC crowd was trying to make sense of how to foster support for Israel in a U.S. electorate that is changing more rapidly and dramatically than it has in generations…. – JTA, 5-23-11
  • Palestinian Vote at U.N. Looms Over U.S.-Israel Rift: Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly clashed with President Barack Obama on Friday, the Israeli leader still needs American help on a looming test: a proposed United Nations vote on a resolution to recognize Palestinian statehood.
    The vote at September’s U.N. General Assembly, would be mostly symbolic, and carry little legal weight. But passage—which is expected if the resolution proceeds to a vote—would be a very visible show of Israel’s isolation on the international stage.
    It could also undercut the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process—a focus of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy—by removing the promise of statehood as a motivating force. And it would give the Palestinians more leverage if talks do resume.
    Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Obama, in front of the media in the Oval Office on Friday, that the president’s call for peace talks based on Israel’s borders before it gained new territory in 1967, with negotiated land swaps, was a nonstarter.
    Mr. Netanyahu’s stance and combative tone won praise from his hard-line political supporters in Israel, who had been unnerved by a speech this month in which Mr. Netanyahu articulated a more moderate view of a peace settlement. Many in Israel, who see the wave of Arab revolutions empowering new parties hostile to their country, say now isn’t the time for concessions.
    Yet as Mr. Obama began a six-day European tour Monday, some critics said Mr. Netanyahu’s aggressive stance could undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to lobby European leaders to vote against Palestinian statehood.
    “There is panic in Israeli government political circles about the U.N. resolution in September and the U.N. is an arena where Israel has almost zero influence,” said Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad officer who was an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. “Netanyahu and his aides have got to be saying to themselves, ‘Can I depend on American support after lecturing the U.S. president in the Oval Office?’”… – WSJ, 5-23-11
  • Bibi and Sara take DC PM leads wife on romantic sunset stroll through US capital ahead of Congress, AIPAC speeches: After meeting with leaders of the American Jewish community Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, clad in sportive attire, went on a sunset stroll through Washington DC.
    The Prime Minister’s Office stated that during the one hour and a half outing, the couple walked by historical landmarks that include Former US Presidents Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial sites and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
    “The prime minister and his wife discussed the history of the United States during their stroll, and from time to time stopped to look at the scenery and the river. When they reached the Jefferson Memorial, the prime minister recited by heart the US Declaration of Independence,” the Prime Minister’s Office wrote in a statement…. – YNet News, 5-23-11
  • US-Israel lobby ‘hopeful’ but wary of Arab Spring: The head of US-Israel lobby AIPAC hailed Monday the “green shoots of democracy” pushing out Arab autocrats, but Israel’s American supporters remain wary of the impacts of uncertain popular uprisings.
    Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told thousands of delegates that while recent months have brought the most dramatic change in the region since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, they are also jeopardizing Israel’s entire security framework.
    “The fact is, this most hopeful time of change in the region is at the same time one of the most challenging periods in Israel’s history.”
    For decades, he said, Israel has been the region’s lone democracy “in a sea of dictatorships,” with peace and war constantly in the balance.
    This year, the AIPAC Policy Conference — which drew US President Barack Obama as keynote speaker Sunday and will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Monday — gathers “at a moment of great transition and hopeful anticipation.”
    “We should all celebrate the genuine green shoots of democracy in the Arab world,” Kohr said…. – AP, 5-23-11
  • Is Obama charting a new course on Israeli-Palestinian issues?: President Obama knew he had some damage control to do when he took the podium before thousands of Israel supporters on Sunday morning at the opening plenary of the annual AIPAC conference.
    But he wasn’t offering any apologies for his speech three days earlier that called for “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” to serve as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
    Rather, Obama offered mostly reassurances and clarifications. He also issued a blunt warning that doing nothing undermines U.S. efforts to fend off Israel’s diplomatic isolation and the Palestinians’ plan to obtain recognition of statehood at the United Nations in September.
    It’s unclear if Obama’s maneuvering will do anything to stanch the Palestinian statehood effort or the campaign to isolate Israel. But either way, Obama said, Israel and its supporters should not be alarmed by his remarks about the 1967 lines: All he did was go public with a well-established formula, he said, one that “by definition” means “the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate” a new border taking into account “new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
    However, a close reading of what Obama said and left unsaid in his two recent speeches hints at a few significant ways that Obama’s approach to resolving the conflict may differ from that of his predecessors. But scant on details, his remarks also raise more questions than they answer…. – JTA, 5-23-11
  • Israelis Protest Against Obama: Israeli protesters demonstrated against President Obama’s recent statements on Israel and the Palestinians in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.israelis protest obama
    Donning symbolic nooses around their necks and holding banners reading “Israel Won’t Commit Suicide,” some 100 protesters from My Israel, an organization representing settlers and hard-line groups, gathered Sunday outside the embassy to protest Obama’s recent declarations on his vision for a future Palestinian state.
    The protesters gathered at the same time that Obama addressed AIPAC in Washington at the pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference.
    “We support America, but we can say to you Obama, you are wrong,” Ayelet Shaked, one of the event’s organizers, told the crowd…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-23-11
  • Israelis protest Obama policies at embassy in Tel Aviv: Israeli protesters demonstrated against President Obama’s recent statements on Israel and the Palestinians in front of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
    Donning symbolic nooses around their necks and holding banners reading “Israel Won’t Commit Suicide” some 100 protestors from My Israel, an organization representing settlers and hard-line groups, gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv Sunday to protest President Obama’s recent declarations on his vision for a future Palestinian state.
    The protesters gathered at the same time Obama addressed AIPAC.
    “We support America, but we can say to you, Obama you are wrong,” Ayelet Shaked, one of the event’s organizers, told the crowd.
    “In your speech you abandoned a friend. You betrayed the only true democracy in the Middle East (and) America’s only friend and ally, Israel,” she said, referring to the president’s new Mideast policy speech delivered at the U.S. State Department on May 19 in which he outlined a future Palestinian state according to pre-1967 lines combined with mutually-agreed upon land swaps.
    In a statement, the My Israel group described Obama’s new policy as requiring “exaggerated concessions from Israel without requesting Palestinians give up the right of return.” – JTA, 5-23-11
  • Netanyahu ‘pleased’ with Obama’s AIPAC address:
    PM’s aides describe speech as ‘befitting,’ say Obama’s clarifications about 1967 borders particularly pleasing. ‘I’m determined to work with president Obama to find a way to reignite the peace process,’ Netanyahu says
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates were satisfied by US President Barack Obama’s clarifications during his address to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Washington, Sunday. Netanyahu and his aides reportedly watched Obama’s AIPAC speech at Blair House – the president’s official guest house….
    “I share the President’s wish to promote peace and I appreciate his past and present efforts to achieve this goal. I am determined to work with President Obama in order to find ways to resume the peace negotiations. Peace is a vital necessity for us all,” Netanyahu said.
    Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who was present at the AIPAC speech, said that the two-state solution was first and foremost an Israeli interest. “Israel must lead in partnership with the US… the world looks up to the US’ relationship with Israel, so the message coming out of Washington these days is very important,” she said. – YNet News, 5-22-11
  • Netanyahu says he’s determined to work with Obama on peace: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “appreciated” President Obama’s speech to AIPAC and that he is “determined to work together” with the president to advance peace.
    “I join in the president’s desire to advance peace, and I appreciate his past and present efforts to achieve this goal,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued after Obama addressed the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.
    “I am determined to act together with President Obama to find ways to renew the peace negotiations,” he said. “Peace is a fundamental need for us all.”…. – JTA, 5-22-11
  • Canada Rejects ’67 Intervention, Unless Israel Agrees: Canada refuses to join the United States in calling for Israel to return to 1949 Armistice borders, the Ottawa Globe and Mail reported Monday.canda israel support
    At a briefing ahead of the G8 summit that is about to begin in France, federal Canadian officials said the basis for the negotiations must be mutually agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
    “What the government of Canada supports is basically a two-state solution that is negotiated,” a senior federal official said. “If it’s [the] border, if it’s other issues, it has to be negotiated, it cannot be unilateral action.”
    When the officials were “pressed by reporters,” the Globe and Mail said, they explained that “both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to decide on their bottom lines, which the Israelis have said will not include a return to the 1967 border.”
    An official who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “If the two parties are of the view that this is a starting point, that is fine for them.”
    Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, added that Canada’s position continues to be the search for a two-state solution. “No solution, ultimately, is possible without both parties sitting down, negotiating and agreeing on what that final outcome will look like,” he said…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-23-11

QUOTES

  • Full Text: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech at AIPAC 2011: …Let me stress one thing. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital interest for us. It would be the realization of a powerful and eternal dream. But it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East. It will not give women in some Arab countries the right to drive a car. It will not prevent churches from being bombed. It will not keep journalists out of jail.
    What will change this? One word: Democracy – real, genuine democracy. And by democracy, I don’t just mean elections. I mean freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, the rights for women, for gays, for minorities, for everyone. What the people of Israel want is for the people of the Middle East to have what you have in America, what we have in Israel – democracy. So it’s time to recognize this basic truth. Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.
    My friends, we want peace because we know the pain of terror and we know the agony of war. We want peace because we know the blessings peace could bring – what it could bring to us and to our Palestinian neighbors. But if we hope to advance peace with the Palestinians, then it’s time that we admitted another truth. This conflict has raged for nearly a century because the Palestinians refuse to end it. They refuse to accept the Jewish state.
    Now, this is what this conflict has always been about. There are many issues linked to this conflict that must be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians. We can, we must, resolve them. But I repeat: We can only make peace with the Palestinians if they’re prepared to make peace with the Jewish state…. – Transcript, 5-23-11
  • Livni: 2-state solution good for Israel: Israel’s opposition leader tells AIPAC two-state solution vital for Jewish State, not anti-Israeli. Only way to avert clash between Israel’s Jewishness, democracy is to ensure Jewish majority, she says
    Give peace a chance: The two-state solution is good for Israel and is the only way to maintain a state that is both Jewish and democratic, Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni told the AIPAC conference in Washington Monday.
    “It is not an anti-Israeli policy – it is vital for Israel’s interests,” she said.
    The “only way” to avert a clash between Israel’s Jewishness and democracy is to maintain a Jewish majority in the country, the opposition leader stressed, urging the government to take action to that effect.
    “Inaction is not an option,” Livni stressed, adding that when Israel speaks clearly, the world “hears our voice.”
    “If we won’t shape our future – others will do it for us,” she warned.
    She also noted that peace with Hamas would be impossible to achieve, as the group represents “religious ideology and there is no way to solve religious conflict.” – YNet, 5-24-11
  • Speaker Boehner Reaffirms U.S. Support for “Safe and Secure Israel,” Calls for Well-Defined U.S. Nat’l Security Goals: On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the joint meeting of Congress Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner is set to deliver an address to AIPAC Monday night, where he will reaffirm America’s support for a “safe and secure” Israel, while rejecting the notion that the U.S. is “too pro-Israel,” calling that suggestion an obstacle to peace in the region.
    “The work of achieving a safe and secure Israel has never been easy, but the cause is right, and let me tell you—that cause has my one hundred percent support,” Boehner, R-Ohio, pledges according to a copy of his prepared remarks obtained by ABC News. “Israel has demonstrated time and again it seeks nothing more than peace with its neighbor. In a negotiation, both sides need to make serious compromises. And like every prime minister before him, Prime Minister Netanyahu knows this and accepts it.”
    Boehner will also call on the White House and Congress to provide a better understanding of U.S. national security policies and goals in order to alleviate any concern from allies about where America’s priorities stand.
    “Some people complain that the United States is too pro-Israel. Let me tell you what I think: Doubts about what America stands for – and who America stands with – slow the search for peace and stability,” Boehner is set to say. “The president and the Congress should work together so that the American people –and our friends, and yes, our enemies– understand our national security policies and our goals. And so that our allies, allies like Israel, have no cause to doubt that we will be with them through thick and thin.”
    Boehner also will speak to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, noting that Iranian officials have undoubtedly “taken notice of how the United States has responded to Libya –versus how it has responded to North Korea,” and suggesting that anyone who doubts the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons is “awfully optimistic.”
    According to Boehner, the top solution to the Iranian threat is a political uprising by the people of Iran, similar to those taking place across the region the past few months.
    “Looming over the entire region is, of course, the Iranian regime and the threat it poses to the there and in the wider world,” Boehner warns. “The best remedy for that threat to the world is if the people of Iran rise up and replace that regime, just as the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have been replaced—and as we all hope those in Libya and Syria will be as well, so that the peoples of those countries can escape from tyranny into freedom.”
    “We should make it clear—clearer than it has been for the last two years—that America is on the side of those who yearn and struggle for their freedom,” Boehner adds. “That is our historic and moral responsibility as a great and free Nation and we should never apologize or be ashamed of that role.”
    Boehner says that the Arab Spring marks “an overdue rejection of corruption and police states” while the people “battle for the region’s political identity.”
    “Will they now build governments that respect human life and dignity, that uphold human rights, and where the people rule?” Boehner asks, “Or will we see women and religious minorities repressed and fundamental rights abridged.”… – ABC News, 5-23-11
  • Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader: Did not mince words in rejecting Obama’s prescription for negotiations based on the 1967 lines with swaps. “No one should set premature parameters about the borders, about building, about anything else,” he said in his speech to AIPAC.
  • AIPAC chief: Obama should not be even-handed toward Israel and Palestinians: Day after U.S. president clarifies vision of Palestinian state within 1967 borders, director of pro-Israel lobby urges Jerusalem and Washington to avoid any public display of diplomatic crisis, as it would likely be exploited by Israel’s enemies.
    AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr said Monday that U.S. President Barack Obama should not take an even-handed approach to the Middle East conflict, as it puts Israel at a disadvantage.
    “Part of being an honest broker is being honest,” Kohr said in an address to AIPAC, a day after Obama spoke to the pro-Israel lobby and clarified his remarks regarding his vision for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, adding “that honesty “should not be confused with even-handedness”.
    “In a world which is demonstrably on the side of the Palestinians and Arabs – where Israel stands virtually alone – the United States has a special role to play,” said the AIPAC director. “When the United States is even-handed, Israel is automatically at a disadvantage, tilting the diplomatic playing field overwhelmingly toward the Palestinians and Arabs.”
    The AIPAC leader also said that no settlement imposed on the Palestinians or on Israel could succeed. “When neither party owns the plan or has responsibility to accept it, that plan is doomed to fail,” he added….
    “If Israel’s foes come to believe that there is diplomatic daylight between the United States and Israel, they will have every incentive to try to exploit those differences and shun peace with the Jewish state,” warned the AIPAC director.
    He also said that Netanyahu was “ready and willing” to negotiate for peace with the Palestinians, but that it was up to the other side to make a positive step forward.
    “There is still time for a Palestinian leader to be bold and creative: to turn back from the current dead end; to reject Hamas; to reject the international path; to reject the road to unilateral recognition at the United Nations and instead to embrace the chance to sit down with Israel to negotiate a real peace,” said Kohr.
    “To say to those who profess to stand for peace: There can be no end to strife for the Palestinian people unless their leaders pursue a partnership in peace with Israel,” he added. – Haaretz, 5-23-11
  • Sarah Palin: Barack Obama’s Disregard for Ally’s Security Begs Clarity: As I noted on Judge Jeanine Pirro’s show this weekend, I reject President Obama’s idea that Israel must cede back its territories to the 1967 line. Will we now be in the habit of telling our allies what their borders should be? Should Prime Minister Netanyahu suggest we return to our 1845 borders before the annexation of the southwest of the United States during the Mexican-American War? Should we give back parts of Texas, New Mexico, and California?
    But the problem is even deeper. In both his State Department speech and his speech yesterday at AIPAC, President Obama made some seemingly specific comments about the Palestinian state that he wants to see created. He either misspoke or he has even more dangerous plans for our friends in Israel than he is publicly admitting.
    In the State Department speech, President Obama said that he wants the borders of Palestine and Israel to “be based on the 1967 lines” (in other words, with both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as part of the new Palestinian state) and that he wants a Palestine that is a “sovereign and contiguous state” (emphasis added). The Merriam–Webster dictionary defines “contiguous” as “being in actual contact: touching along a boundary or at a point; of angles, adjacent; next or near in time or sequence; touching or connected throughout in an unbroken sequence,” like the “contiguous United States” which obviously excludes Alaska and Hawaii.
    But the 1967 lines do not include a “contiguous” Palestine. (See the map here.) So what does he mean? The President proposes “mutually agreed [land] swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” Is linking Gaza and the West Bank with a road the “secured border” he has in mind? Or is he suggesting something more? Is it not possible he’s suggesting that the only way you can create a “contiguous” Palestinian state with “secured” borders is by carving Israel in half? Clarification on this point is of paramount importance, Mr. President.
    In fact, that leads me to another even bigger geographic problem with the President’s remarks. As the British newspaper The Independent points out, there is further confusion because President Obama said, “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.” As The Independent asks: “How does that square with the pre-1967 borders? Was the President implying that the new improved Israel will border neither Jordan nor Egypt, as it does now? Would Palestine’s contiguous territory come at the expense of Israel’s? Would Israel get the Gaza Strip and the Mediterranean and Palestine get the Negev and a Red Sea port?”
    Is that what you have in mind, Mr. President? Do you not want an Israeli border with Egypt? You need to clarify what you mean. Diplomacy requires precision and you are causing enormous anxiety for some and making commitments to others that you might not be able to keep.
    It has long been the dream of radicals like Noam Chomsky to create a “contiguous Palestine.” True, President George W. Bush spoke ambiguously of a “contiguous” Palestinian state, but he never defined it geographically with borders the way President Obama has, and he had the security of our ally Israel in mind more than our current President. President Obama has in essence boxed Israel in without regard for the facts on the ground and without appreciating the fact that Israel looks across the negotiating table and sees the terrorist organization Hamas in alliance with Fatah. Israel has demonstrated in the past that it is willing to negotiate fairly with a genuine partner in peace. Just look at the treaty it maintains to this day with Egypt. All of this should have been considered and the President’s words should have been carefully measured so as to help and not hinder the peace process. Unfortunately, his words have caused confusion and distressed our ally. – Sarah Palin, Facebook, 5-23-11
  • Miri Regev: Land of Israel is ours: Knesset Member Miri Regev offers Netanyahu her version of speech for Congress… – YNet News, 5-24-11
  • Lieberman: Netanyahu’s stance on 1967 borders reflects viewpoint of most Israelis: During a Yisrael Beiteinu party meet, the foreign minister says that negotiating for the Palestinian right of return means the de facto elimination of Israel.
    Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman voiced support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance expressed during his trip to the United States, saying on Monday that Netanyahu’s viewpoints “reflect those of most of Israeli society.”
    In comments to the press in the U.S. on Friday, the prime minister told U.S. President Barack Obama that Israel cannot go back to the “indefensible’ 1967 borders, claiming they are not feasible in light of today’s security and demographic reality.
    “There is no need to turn every disagreement into drama.” He added, referring to the apparent tension, that the situation wasn’t “the apocalypse.”
    “Israel is ready to conduct peace negotiations at any given moment, but without pre-conditions” Lieberman said about stalled talks with the Palestinians.
    “Anyone who wants to conduct negotiations with us is welcome,” the foreign minister said. “All those who defend the Palestinian right of return needs to know consciously or unconsciously, that the intention is the de facto elimination of Israel.”
    Lieberman continued to emphasize that there would be no negotiations on the Palestinian right of return, “not even one refugee.”…. – Haaretz, 5-23-11
  • AIPAC likes Obama’s clarification on ’67 lines: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it “appreciated” President Obama’s clarification that he did not expect Israel to return to its 1967 lines.
    “In particular, we appreciate his statement that the U.S. does not expect Israel to withdraw to the boundaries that existed between Israel and Jordan in 1967 before the Six-Day War,” the pro-Israel lobby said in a statement released after Obama delivered a speech Sunday to its annual policy conference.
    Some pro-Israel groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee praised the May 19 speech for its pro-Israel remarks, while others like the Zionist Organization of America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the reference to 1967 lines. AIPAC was notably silent. In its statement after his speech to the group Sunday, AIPAC also said it appreciated Obama’s posture on Hamas and Iran.
    “We also commend President Obama for his explicit condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and his recognition that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a group that denies its fundamental right to exist,” AIPAC said. “We also welcome the president’s reaffirmation of his longstanding commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”… – JTA, 5-22-11
  • Gene Simmons Slams Obama, the UN: KISS rock star, Israeli-born Gene Simmons, tells the CNBC Christian network that U.S. President Barack Obama “has no idea of what the world is like.” He also calls the United Nations “the most pathetic body on the face of the earth.”
    Jane Wells interviewed Simmons on CNBC and asked him what he thinks of President Obama, for whom Simmons voted and now regrets it. He answered, “If you have never been to the moon, you can’t issue policy about the moon. For the president to be sitting in Washington D.C. and saying, ‘Go back to your ’67 borders in Israel’ – how abut you live there and try to defend an indefensible border – nine miles wide?”
    “On one side, you got hundreds of millions of people who hate your guts. On the other side you got the Mediterranean. Unless you control the Golan Heights, it is an indefensible position. it is a nice idea, [but] when you grow up, you find out that life is not the way you imagine it.
    “President Obama means well – I think he actually is a good guy, He has no idea of what the world is like because he does not have to live there.”… – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-23-11
  • Obama pre-1967 borders remark recalls Carter-Rabin kerfuffle: President Obama gave an internationally televised speech yesterday outlining United States Middle East policy. The address was largely lauded by American Jewish institutions, but raised some eyebrows while addressing the future borders of a Palestinian state, especially from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Washington today, and had responded that the pre-1967 lines are “indefensible.”
    In 1977, while U.S. attention was focussed on Israel’s borders with several Arab nations — though not about Palestinian state — a similar exchange over borders took place between the leaders of Israel and the U.S. -  JTA, 5-23-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Gary Rosenblatt: An Insider’s Look At AIPAC Conference: Just Me And 10,000 Other Attendees: …My mantra, and futile complaint about Jewish public events, is “less is more.” But it never works that way. And truth to tell, the AIPAC conference is not geared to pleasing the media, nor should it be. It’s aimed at its delegates and does a terrific job of educating them about the issues through a variety of speakers at breakout sessions and of firing them up to be passionate, effective lobbyists – in Washington and back home.
    As for the prime minister’s remarks, I wrote about them in my column this week.
    I would just add that the crowd responded very effectively when five people heckled him – one at a time and a few minutes apart. Each time someone shouted out against Israeli policy, the delegates rose to their feet in applause of the prime minister, drowning out the protester. (Note to planners of this fall’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.)
    What leaves me worried, though, was the mood of anger and fear among AIPAC delegates stemming from President Obama’s State Department speech – particularly the line about the pre-1967 war boundaries being a starting point for negotiations – and revved up by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated insistence that those borders are “indefensible.”
    It seemed like Netanyahu purposefully responded in a confrontational way, initially and again Monday night. So it was not surprising to see some pro-Israel groups labeling Obama “the new Arafat” and putting out ads asserting that the President had called for Israel to “retreat” to the pre-`67 lines.
    It’s an emotional and dangerous over-reaction that could undermine the very theme of the AIPAC conference: “Best Together” in referring to the U.S. and Israel…. – The NY Jewish Week, 5-24-11
  • Obama’s Israel anorexia Op-ed: Just like anorexics, will US president realize error of his ways only after it’s too late?: I hate the fact that Israel’s appearance has been manipulated to that of the occupier, of the oppressor, the warmonger. None of that is true. Israel was created to be the homeland and safe haven for Jews in a world that has consistently and historically tried to destroy us. I am not happy with my knowledge, that the ultimate goal of our enemies is the destruction of Israel, the Jewish people, and afterward Western society. But unfortunately it is true, even if it’s not politically correct to say in today’s world….
    I would love to have the world applaud Israel’s bold steps for peace. Ignoring that the bold steps already taken at Oslo, in Lebanon, and Gaza did not get accolades, only further criticism on Israel and two wars, with the reality of two more coming soon.
    How long after a pullout to the 1967 borders will the Arabs, and soon after the world, insist on ending the “occupation” in other “territories” like Jaffa and Haifa? And how soon will we be told that there cannot be peace until the Palestinian country can defend itself with an army and defensive weapons? Of course, transporting weapons freely between Gaza and “mainland” Palestine is a basic right.
    I wonder, in the not so far off doomsday scenario, after Israel no longer exists; or maybe after Europe is Judenrein, will Obama, Blair and other lovers of peace realize that the goal was never about peace? Maybe after several more attacks on the US and the West will it become clear?
    The satisfaction of getting Obama to admit from deep in his protective bunker that he was mistaken is insignificant beyond belief compared to the cost. Of course, it is irreversible….
    Until there is a time when there is a real partner in peace and co-existence, Israel will have to suffer as the cruel, inflexible, unreasonable, uncompromising nation we are being portrayed as.
    We do not have the luxury of proving we are right. But maybe we can survive long enough until there is a real cure…. – YNet News, 5-24-11
  • Will Obama’s Israel stance really cost him Jewish support?: …There is one crucial difference between 2008 and 2012, of course: This time around, the eventual GOP nominee won’t be dumb enough to pick someone like Sarah Palin as Veep. The pick of Palin, observers concluded, drove older, swing-voting Jewish voters into the Obama camp and limited any damage he risked among that constituency.
    But even lacking a Palin factor, it’s hard to believe that Obama’s Israel stance will really cost him a meaningful level of Jewish support. I don’t doubt that in the wake of Obama’s speech, Democratic operatives are “scrambling to mollify the Jewish community,” as Reuters reports. It would be folly for Dems to take Jewish support for granted. But my bet is is that the vast majority of Jews will reject the line that Obama’s position is somehow an existential threat to Israel and will side with people like Abraham Foxman and Jeffrey Goldberg, who see Obama’s stance as an articulation of longtime U.S. policy and even see his overall approach as pro-Israel. Stay tuned for the next polling and the next financial disclosure reports. Should be very interesting. – WaPo, 5-23-11

Israel Political Brief May 22, 2011: Obama Addresses AIPAC — Reaffirms His Position on Israel’s 1967 Borders — Canada Objects, Palin, & Gingrich Criticize

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings and JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish Studies at Concordia University.

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

THE HEADLINES….

  • Obama to AIPAC: Israelis, Palestinians should negotiate a new border: President Obama said his call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines did not mean the future state of Palestine would have those exact borders.
    “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,” Obama said on Sunday morning to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
    Last week, Obama said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be based on the pre-’67 lines, with mutually agreed swaps. He also said the difficult issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be deferred for later. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called such borders “indefensible.”
    “If there is a controversy, it’s not based on substance,” Obama said Sunday. “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”… – JTA, 5-22-11
  • Obama Challenges Israel to Make Hard Choices: President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to “make the hard choices” necessary to bring about a stable peace.
    Mr. Obama, speaking before a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered familiar assurances that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s long-term security was “ironclad.” But citing the rising political upheaval near Israel’s borders, he presented his peace plan as the best chance Israel has to avoid growing isolation.
    “We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace,” Mr. Obama said. The world, he said, “is moving too fast.”
    Administration officials said it would be up to Mr. Obama, during an economic summit in Paris next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming United Nations vote, a prospect that would deeply embarrass Israel. Some French officials have already indicated that they are leaning toward such an endorsement.
    “He basically said, ‘I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work with, even America can’t save you,’ ” said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
    The appearance by Mr. Obama on Sunday punctuated a tense week in which he and Mr. Netanyahu made their separate cases about Palestinian statehood to American audiences. Mr. Netanyahu will address the same group on Monday and will speak before Congress on Tuesday at the invitation of Republican lawmakers…. – NYT, 5-22-11
  • Obama seeks to reassure Israel on Mideast policy in speech at AIPAC conference: President Obama sought to reassure Israel and its supporters of “ironclad” U.S. support Sunday in a speech to a Jewish lobbying group that also warned that time could be running out for a peace accord with Palestinians.
    Obama, wading afresh into a topic that evoked anger from Israeli leaders last week, insisted again that 1967 boundary lines should be the starting point for talks on a new Palestinian state. But he allowed that the dividing line would be negotiated to accommodate Israeli settlements and security needs.
    “Israelis and Palestinians will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its annual conference in Washington.
    While sticking to the views he outlined in a Middle East policy speech Thursday, Obama more clearly aligned his position on borders to one espoused by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. The Bush White House had concluded that a return to the precise boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War was “not realistic,” because of the presence of large Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    Acknowledging that Israel faced “hard choices” and security risks, Obama argued that stalling on peace negotiations posed even greater dangers for the country’s survival. The Arab Spring movement and changing demographic forces — including growing numbers of Palestinians west of the Jordan River — present long-term challenges to Israel that will be resolved only by the creation of separate homelands for Jews and Palestinians, he said.
    “No matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option,” he said. “The status quo is unsustainable.”
    “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” he said.
    Obama said he was not surprised by the uproar over his Thursday speech but added that “if there is controversy, it is not based on substance.”
    “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” he said. “I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.:”… – WaPo, 5-22-11
  • Obama to AIPAC: I won’t back down on Israel-Palestine border issue: Speaking to AIPAC Sunday, President Obama repeated his position that Israel-Palestine peace negotiations must acknowledge the 1967 borders as a starting point. But he also emphasized that US commitment to Israel’s security is ‘ironclad.’
    President Obama is not backing down on how to solve the Israel-Palestine border issue in achieving peace in the Middle East.
    Speaking Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – which identifies itself as America’s leading pro-Israel lobby – Obama reiterated his stance: Any negotiation has to begin by acknowledging the 1967 borders before the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied land in Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.
    Speaking to AIPAC Sunday, Obama sought to clarify what he had meant on Thursday regarding the 1967 borders.
    “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,” Obama said. “It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”
    “The ultimate goal is two states for two people,” he said, “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people – and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people – each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”… – CS Monitor, 5-22-11
  • Mideast Obama restates call for ’1967 lines’ in Israeli-Palestinian talks: Unwilling to retreat from Benjamin Netanyahu’s angry outbursts, Barack Obama warned thousands of ardent pro-Israelis that finding a lasting peace with Palestinians begins with Israel’s pre-1967 frontiers.
    The U.S. President’s tone was soothing and his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee placatory, but he didn’t budge from his statement last week that has sparked a furor and the remarkable spectacle of an Israeli prime minister publicly disputing an American president in the Oval Office.
    As Mr. Obama reiterated Sunday, it remains the obvious – if not explicitly stated position by any previous president – that negotiating boundaries for a Palestinian state begins with Israel’s frontiers before the lightning war of June 1967, when Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan, seizing and occupying the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the revered walled city of old Jerusalem.
    “If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance,” Mr. Obama said, added that he has said nothing new or startling, although his reference to “1967 lines” drew scattered boos from the audience that has been explicitly told to respectively receive speakers, even if they disagree.
    “It was my reference to the 1967 lines – with mutually agreed swaps – that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now,” Mr. Obama said. He said his position has been “misrepresented” although he didn’t call out Mr. Netanyahu – who will deliver his own version of the way forward Monday to the 10,000-plus AIPAC at the most powerful pro-Israeli group’s annual convention. (The blunt-speaking Israeli leader – whose relationship with Mr. Obama has ranged from distant to frosty – will give a speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress.)
    “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace.” “Delay will undermine security,” he added…. – The Globe & Mail, 5-22-11
  • Obama Quotes Talmud at AIPAC, Tells Hamas “Release Shalit”: In an address aimed at placating his disgruntled Jewish supporters, President Barack Obama told his audience of over 10,000 at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday that “a strong and secure Israel is in the interest of the United States and the bond between our two vibrant democracies must be nurtured.”
    He maintained that he did not say anything fundamentally new in his Thursday speech, when he mentioned the “1967 borders” as a basis for future peace
    Taking intense criticism from pro-Israel supporters since then, when he called for Israel to negotiate a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, he sought to heal wounds by enumerating actions taken by the US to foster Israel’s security…. – Virtual Jerusalem Post, 5-22-11
  • Obama, at AIPAC, takes on the 1967 borders issue: An interesting morning at the AIPAC policy conference. Then again, how could it not be with President Barack Obama addressing more than 10,000 participants only days after giving a major policy address on the Middle East?
    I half expected a purely political speech, reaffirming his strong support for Israel, using key slogans like Israel’s qualitative military edge and banging away at Iran, and avoiding his call the other day for peace negotiations kith the Palestinians based on the 1967, with negotiated land swaps.
    In an almost stern tone, he referred to how his comments have been “misrepresented” – presumably by those pro-Israel activists who say he called for a return to the exact borders of 1967, which polite critics call “indefensible” and less polite ones call “Auschwitz borders.”
    He said that “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” 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 is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. 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. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”
    Then, an almost chiding tone: “If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”
    His core argument: with the winds of change sweeping across the Arab world, with growing attempts to delegitimize Israel – which he promised his administration would “steadfastly” oppose – and with the Palestinian effort to bypass direct negotiations with its UN General Assembly gambit, the “status quo is unsustainable” and time is running out…. – The NY Jewish Week, 5-22-11
  • Protests Break Out at AIPAC During Obama’s Speech: KnightNews.com has a crew in Washington D.C. where protests against Israeli and US foreign policy are breaking out outside the AIPAC convention.
    KnightNews.com ilive streamed video of the protests, and we have concluded the live stream to go inside the conference and get video interviews with the other side. An updated video story with both sides will be posted as soon as possible. The protests came before, during and after US President Barack Obama spoke at the conference…. – Knight News, 5-22-11
  • ’67 lines not top Mideast peace hurdle: US lawmaker: Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist remains the primary impasse for Mideast peace, and not the recently revised dispute over territorial lines, the Republican US House majority leader said Sunday.
    Representative Eric Cantor, the most senior Jewish member in House history, also told the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference that it was time for the Arab world and Palestinians in particular to stop “scapegoating” Israel and to earn their statehood by renouncing violence.
    A Palestinian “culture infused with resentment and hatred” over the Jewish state is stymieing the peace process, which has all but frozen in recent months, and whose future is in turmoil with the Palestinian Authority recently signing a unity pact with Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist group.
    “It is this culture that underlies the Palestinians’ and the broader Arab world’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” Cantor said told some 10,000 delegates at AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
    “This is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ’67 lines,” he said to a rousing standing ovation.
    “And until Israel’s enemies come to terms with this reality, a true peace will be impossible.”… – AFP, 5-22-11
  • Several GOP presidential hopefuls to attend AIPAC Conference: As President Barack Obama’s Mideast speech this week came under fire from many in the Republican Party for not being supportive enough of Israel, several GOP prospective presidential candidates will be appearing this week at a major event sponsored by a key American Israeli lobbying organization.
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman will attend a policy conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, Ari Goldberg, a spokesman for the group, confirmed to CNN.
    Obama will be making his first appearance as president before an AIPAC event when he addresses the conference Sunday morning. Several leading members of Congress are also scheduled to speak at the event…. – CNN, 5-21-11
  • Palin slams Obama, supports Israel: Former Alaska governor says US should defend Israel against enemies, adds her primary goal is to make sure Obama not reelected
    Former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin slammed Barack Obama’s Mideast policy speech, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does not need to be lectured by President Obama on the importance of peace. He understands it.”
    In an interview for Fox News on Saturday, Palin went on to speak in support of the Jewish state: “Anyone who studies history, studies the Old Testament, studies geography understands that Israel now is surrounded by enemies at all times,” she said. “It should be now that America takes a stand in defending our enemies in Israel.
    “More than ever we should be standing strong with Israel and saying ‘No, you don’t have to divide Jerusalem, you don’t have to divide your capital city,’” she added.
    She continued to attack Obama, saying his foreign policy “really makes no sense.”
    “I’m going to call him our temporary leader because my goal is to make sure that President Obama is not reelected in 2012,” she said.
    Palin, who has yet to decide whether to run for president in the coming elections, wasn’t the only Republican to express disapproval of Obama following his tense weekend meeting with Netanyahu.
    Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a prominent contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said that Obama “threw Israel under the bus.”
    “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace,” Romney said.
    Tim Pawlenty, another Republican presidential hopeful, called Obama’s demand for Israel to return to 1967 borders a “disaster waiting to happen.”… – YNet News, 5-22-11
  • Ottawa won’t back Obama’s Mideast peace proposal: The Harper government is refusing to join the United States in calling for a return to 1967 borders as a starting point for Mideast peace, a position that has drawn sharp criticism from Canada’s staunch ally Israel.
    At a briefing ahead of the upcoming G8 summit in France, federal officials said the basis for the negotiations must be mutually agreed upon.
    Israel quickly rejected U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal for the talks to be guided by the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps.
    “What the government of Canada supports is basically a two-state solution that is negotiated,” a senior federal official said. “If it’s border, if it’s others issues, it has to be negotiated, it cannot be unilateral action.”
    Pressed by reporters, federal officials said both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to decide on their bottom lines, which the Israelis have said will not include a return to the 1967 border.
    “If the two parties are of the view that this is a starting point, that is fine for them,” said the federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
    The Prime Minister’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, added that Canada’s position continues to be the search for a two-state solution.
    “No solution, ultimately, is possible without both parties sitting down, negotiating and agreeing on what that final outcome will look like,” he said…. – The Globe & Mail, 5-22-11
  • Israel ‘approves new West Bank settler homes’: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has approved the construction of 294 new homes in Beitar Ilit settlement on the occupied West Bank, anti-settlement NGO Peace Now reported on Sunday.
    It also said that work had started on more than 2,000 settler homes since the end in September of Israel’s 10-month freeze on Jewish construction on Palestinian land.
    Peace Now made its announcement as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington preparing to address the US Congress and a powerful pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
    It said Barak has also approved building of homes for the elderly and a shopping centre in the settlement of Efrat…. – AFP, 5-22-11

QUOTES

  • Remarks by the President at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011 Walter E. Washington Convention Center Washington, D.C.: THE PRESIDENT: ….Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.
    On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed — (applause) — we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years — that even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable — (applause) — and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad. (Applause.)
    A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and children can live free from the threat of violence. It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.
    America’s commitment to Israel’s security flows from a deeper place — and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers — and foremothers — fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedoms we cherish must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland for the Jewish people. (Applause.)
    We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel living in a very tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot and saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket, and when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.
    Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. (Applause.) It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. (Applause.) And that includes additional support –- beyond regular military aid -– for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. (Applause.) A powerful example of American-Israeli cooperation — a powerful example of American-Israeli cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. (Applause.)
    You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Applause.) Here in the United States, we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. (Applause.) At the United Nations, under our leadership, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we’re going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear –- we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Applause.)
    Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality. Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and we will stand up to groups like Hezbollah, who exercise political assassination and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.
    You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. (Applause.) As I said at the United Nations last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.” (Applause.)
    So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. (Applause.) When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it. (Applause.)
    And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. (Applause.) And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. (Applause.)
    Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. (Applause.) And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. (Applause.) No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (Applause.) And we will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements. (Applause.) And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years. (Applause.)
    And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. And that is why on Thursday I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims — the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians since at least the Clinton administration.
    I know that stating these principles — on the issues of territory and security — generated some controversy over the past few days. (Laughter.) I wasn’t surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. I don’t need Rahm to tell me that. Don’t need Axelrod to tell me that. But I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. (Applause.) So I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.
    Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
    Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.
    Third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.
    And just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.
    And those are the facts. I firmly believe, and I repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. (Applause.) Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment; that is my pledge to all of you. (Applause.)
    Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner –- which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist. (Applause.) And we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and for their rhetoric. (Applause.)
    But the march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations –- will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. And for us to have leverage with the Palestinians, to have leverage with the Arab States and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. And so, in advance of a five-day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.
    There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations. Since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday — not what I was reported to have said.
    I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause) — so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
    As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself –- by itself -– against any threat. (Applause.) Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. (Applause.) And a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign and non-militarized state. (Applause.) And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated. (Applause.)
    Now, that is what I said. And it was my reference to the 1967 lines — with mutually agreed swaps — that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
    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. (Applause.) That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. (Applause.) It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people — (applause) — and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. (Applause.)
    If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. (Applause.) The world is moving too fast. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.
    Now, I know that some of you will disagree with this assessment. I respect that. And as fellow Americans and friends of Israel, I know we can have this discussion.
    Ultimately, it is the right and the responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. (Applause.) And as a friend of Israel, I’m committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized. And I will call not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, on the Arab States, and the international community to join us in this effort, because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone. (Applause.)
    But even as we do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security, even as we are clear-eyed about the difficult challenges before us, and even as we pledge to stand by Israel through whatever tough days lie ahead, I hope we do not give up on that vision of peace. For if history teaches us anything, if the story of Israel teaches us anything, it is that with courage and resolve, progress is possible. Peace is possible.
    The Talmud teaches us that, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.” And that lesson seems especially fitting today.
    For so long as there are those across the Middle East and beyond who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal.
    And so long as there are those who long for a better future, we will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security. This is not idealism; it is not naïveté. It is a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. (Applause.) That is my goal, and I look forward to continuing to work with AIPAC to achieve that goal.
    Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you. – Transcript
  • Gene Simmons Slams President Obama’s Israel Policy: ‘He Has No F-Ing Idea What The World Is Like’Breitbart, 5-22-11
  • Sarah Palin Criticizes Obama on Israel; Calls Him ‘Temporary Leader’: In an interview with Fox News’ Judge Jeanine on Saturday, Palin spoke in support of the Jewish state, saying, “Anyone who studies history, studies the Old Testament, studies geography understands that Israel now is surrounded by enemies at all times.
    “It should be now that America takes a stand in defending our friends in Israel.”
    Obama has been drawing fire from Republicans after delivering a major speech on Thursday. In it, he stated, “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.”
    Also rejecting Obama’s stance, Palin stated on Fox, “To tell Israel that now they have to pull back from their homeland, that they have to concede even more, and that they have to negotiate with terrorists, with Hamas, having been a part now joining in the unity government under Palestinian authority, we’re flirting with disaster under President Obama’s very clouded, very murky foreign policy as it applies to Israel.”
    What the U.S. should be doing more than ever is “standing strong with Israel and saying, ‘No, you don’t have to divide Jerusalem, you don’t have to divide your capital city,’” she continued.
    Palin commented, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not need to be lectured by President Obama on the importance of peace. He understands it.”
    “I’m going to call him a temporary leader, because my goal is to make sure that President Obama is not reelected in 2012,” she said on Fox.
    “We the people need to rise up, saying we’ll take a stand for Israel. We’ll be on their side, no matter if our ‘temporary leader’ sides with terrorists and demands Israel negotiate with terrorists.
    “Until President Obama is replaced by a president who understands the importance of treating our friends right and being strong against our enemies – until that happens – it’s ‘We the People’ who have to rise up and make sure that Israel knows they have friends here.”… – Christian Post, 5-21-11
  • Newt Gingrich Leads Criticism on Obama’s Israel-Palestine Remarks: Republican presidential hopeful and Catholic convert Newt Gingrich has labeled President Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian policy a “disaster” during Sunday’s CBS program “Face the Nation.”
    Outspoken Gingrich said Obama’s remarks were “extraordinarily dangerous,” and further stated that “a president who can’t control his own border probably shouldn’t lecture Israel about their border.”
    Gingrich was referring to Obama’s comments this week that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations be based on border demarcations from before the six-day war in 1967, in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip among other territories. Furthermore, he stated that potential agreements should include land swap deals to reflect changes over recent decades.
    Gingrich said on “Face the Nation:” “I think that defining the 1967 border would be an act of suicide for Israel. They are totally non-defensible.
    “You have Hamas, which is a terrorist organization whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel. The idea that somehow we’re supposed to be neutral between Hamas and Israel is fundamentally flawed and I do not believe that we should have any pressure on Israel as long as Hamas’ policy is the destruction of Israel and as long as missiles are being fired into Israel and terrorists are preparing to try to kill Israelis.”
    Gingrich is not the only one condemning Obama’s stance towards Israel; Congressman Ron Paul has also issued a blistering critique of Obama’s recent proposals.
    “Unlike this President, I do not believe it is our place to dictate how Israel runs her affairs,” the Texas Republican said in a press statement.
    “There can only be peace in the region if those sides work out their differences among one another. We should respect Israel’s sovereignty and not try to dictate her policy from Washington,” he added…. – Christian Post, 5-22-11
  • MK Katz Warns AIPAC, ‘Obama Put a Gun to Israel’s Head’: “Don’t fall for U.S. President Barack Obama’s magical oratory. He put a gun to Israel’s head and asked it to commit suicide,” National Union chairman and Knesset Member Yaakov (Ketzaleh) Katz MK wrote the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Sunday.
    The legislator continued, “I urge you not to be captured by his magic tongue because he actually is asking you for your votes and your money.”
    MK Katz wrote to AIPAC committee members, “The People of Israel, in the Diaspora for 2,000 years, developed a sense of who loves us and who hates us. President Obama knows very well that former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban described the 1967 borders as ‘Auschwitz borders.’”
    “The People of Israel will not fall for the false charm of posters, slogans, cellophane wrappers of sweetened drugs of death”, he concluded. – Israel National News, 5-22-11
  • Livni on Obama speech: US and Israel have shared interests: Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Sunday commented on US President Barack Obama’s speech to AIPAC earlier, saying “The principle of Israel’s security and the need to arrive at a two-state solution, one of which is the State of Israel, is first of all an Israeli interest. Therefore, we need to be going in this direction in our partnership with the US.”
    “It’s important to understand that the entire world looks at the relationship between Israel and the United States, especially those who still do not accept our existence here. And part of Israel’s deterrence capability comes from the understanding that we are working together [with the US]. Therefore, there is a very important message coming from Washington these days,” Livni said.
    She stressed, “The things that Obama mentioned represent a long-standing American policy. We have shared interests. This is very important to Israel, so that it can once and for all advance the process to prevent unilateral moves at the United Nations.” – JPost, 5-22-11
  • Eric Cantor: Israel is America’s Most Loyal Ally: Republican Eric Cantor, the GOP majority leader in the House of Representatives, addressed the attendees of the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.
    Speaking of his immigrant roots and of his pride of being Jewish, Cantor told the audience that “America needs Israel as it is our most stable and loyal ally,” adding that “America must do everything in its power to protect Israel. It is okay to vilify Israel but it is not okay to scapegoat Israel.”
    He addressed the conflict between Israelis and Arabs and said that the root of the conflict is not the so-called 1967 lines (the 1949 armistice lines which defense experts have said would be indefensible), but rather the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel. Israel wants to live in peace, said Cantor, but PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has to stop promoting hate and should come to the negotiating table. Until that happens, noted Cantor, there can be no peace, particularly with Hamas being part of the PA government…. Israel National News, 5-22-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Gil Troy: Despite the talk about “Obama’s Mideast speech” Thursday, I actually heard two separate addresses. In the first, President Barack Obama offered vague nostrums about the “Arab spring,” best summarized in three words: Democracy is good. Obama transitioned awkwardly to the second speech, about Israelis and Palestinians, saying: “Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.” In this section, the professorial president turned from airy abstractions to problematic particulars. Although it was impossible to predict America’s next move in the Arab world from the speech’s first part, we now know exactly how an Israel-Palestine peace treaty would look if Obama could dictate it and those annoying people who live there would just follow….
    Even more problematic was his call for “the borders of Israel and Palestine” to “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” These words not only seem to contradict George W. Bush’s vow to Ariel Sharon based on decades of American policy, but the deification of 1967 boundaries lacks historical nuance in a region obsessed with nuance and history.
    The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that in the region particular borders shifted and populations moved. Anyone who talks about people frozen in place for centuries or borders as if they were permamarked on a map is either a fool or a fanatic. Bible-based Israelis must admit that the boundaries of Biblical land of Israel, varied, just as passionate Palestinians must admit that the boundaries of Palestine-Israel in the twentieth-century alone shifted repeatedly.
    We cannot undo history and we must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and a touch but not too much historicity. Obama’s overlooked line about the “growing number of Palestinians [who] live west of the Jordan River,” explains why each of the two clashing people should have a state. Peace will work if it passes the test of what Obama called populism, working logically for many people today, not at some random point from the past.
    Obama did speak beautifully about “a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.” Alas, this speech did not do enough to buttress the forces of hope over hate, and by feeding the 1967 obsession, Obama himself was too shackled to one unhelpful perspective on the past.

Poll shows hardening of Jewish-Arab attitudes

Source: AFP, 5-22-11

The number of Arab Israelis who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Zionist state rose to 66.4 percent in 2010 while 29.5 percent opposed its existence under any terms, a poll said.

The survey of 1,411 Jewish and Arab Israeli adults conducted by Haifa University professor Sammy Smooha and published on Sunday said the respective numbers in 2003 were 61.4 percent and 11.2 percent.

Indicating growing radicalisation in the views of each group about the other, the 2010 survey found that 32.5 percent of Jewish Israelis supported revoking their Arab compatriots’ right to vote, compared to 24 percent in 1985….READ MORE

Israel Political Brief May 20, 2011: President Obama & Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Meet & Disagree over Israel Borders

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings and JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish Studies at Concordia University.

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

IN FOCUS: OBAMA & NETANYAHU MEET

Doug Mills/The New York Times President Obama met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office on Friday.

THE HEADLINES….

  • Divisions Are Clear as Obama and Netanyahu Discuss Peace: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told President Obama on Friday that he shared his vision for a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and then promptly listed a series of nonnegotiable conditions that have kept the two sides at an impasse for years. Sitting at Mr. Obama’s side in the Oval Office, leaning toward him and at times looking him directly in the eye, the Israeli leader bluntly rejected compromises of the sort Mr. Obama had outlined the day before in hopes of reviving a moribund peace process. Mr. Obama, who had sought to emphasize Israel’s concerns in his remarks moments earlier, stared back. In his public remarks, delivered after a meeting that lasted more than two hours, Mr. Netanyahu warned against “a peace based on illusions,” seemingly leaving the prospect for new talks as remote as they have been since the last significant American push for peace collapsed last fall. Officials said that the meeting was productive, but that there were no plans for formal negotiations or any mechanisms in place to push the two sides forward. Most significant among his public objections, Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel would not accept a return to the boundaries that existed before the war in 1967 gave it control of the West Bank and Gaza, calling them indefensible. “Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide; it’s half the width of the Washington Beltway,” Mr. Netanyahu said. He was referring to the narrowest point between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea, north of Tel Aviv, while displaying a well-honed familiarity with American cultural references to make his point for an American audience. “These were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars.”… – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Israeli leader rejects ’67 lines At a tense appearance with the president, Netanyahu rebuffed the idea, while Obama spoke of differences between friends: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday publicly lectured President Obama on the shortcomings of his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during a tense Oval Office appearance that laid bare the strained relations between the leaders. Admonishing a president of the United States on international television, Netanyahu rejected the plan outlined by Obama that would use the boundaries in effect before 1967 – more accurately, an armistice line set by the United Nations in 1949 after Israeli and Arab forces stopped fighting – as the starting point for negotiations, saying that doing so would risk Israel’s security and force it to negotiate with “a Palestinian version of al-Qaeda.” “The only peace that will endure is one based on reality, on unshakable facts,” Netanyahu said, leaning intently toward a grim Obama in the news appearance that followed an unexpectedly long, three-hour meeting. Obama acknowledged the chasm. “Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulation and language, and that’s going to happen between friends,” he said. The clash was remarkable even by the standards of frequently fractious ties between U.S. and Israeli leaders. Obama and Netanyahu sat, mostly stiff and unsmiling. It has contributed to worry among Israelis, who prefer that their leaders be on good terms with the Americans…. – PA Inquirer, 5-20-11
  • In meeting with Obama, Netanyahu rules out Israeli withdrawal to 1967 boundaries: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suggested Friday that President Obama holds an unrealistic view of how to achieve peace in the Middle East, saying that Israel would never pull back to the boundaries that the American president said a day earlier must be the basis for negotiations. The unusual Oval Office exchange, following a nearly two-hour meeting, laid bare the fundamental differences between Obama and the hawkish leader of the chief U.S. ally in the Middle East. Republicans on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, injected partisan politics into the debate by vowing to formally condemn Obama’s position toward Israel in a resolution next week…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • Talking, and Listening, in the Oval Office: When President Obama met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, in the Oval Office on Friday, this photo caught our eye. The two men have had a sometimes rocky relationship, (see today’s story by Helene Cooper) but they exchanged cordial words on Friday. This picture was snapped as Mr. Obama listened, almost frozen, during long remarks by Mr. Netanyahu, in which the Israeli leader pushed back against the framework for a peace deal that Mr. Obama outlined in a speech Thursday at the State Department. It made us wonder: What is Mr. Obama thinking?… – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Israel ‘Cannot Go Back to the 1967 Lines,’ Netanyahu Tells Obama: Before the meeting, Mr. Netanyahu’s aides told reporters that Mr. Obama failed to understand “the reality” of Israel’s situation and suggested that the American president was harboring some “delusions.” Speaking to the press as Mr. Obama sat by his side, Mr. Netanyahu echoed those sentiments, saying “a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality.” The Israeli prime minister then reiterated his strong objection to Mr. Obama’s statement, in his speech on Thursday, that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” In his remarks on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu said: “While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the past 44 years.”… – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Israeli official: Washington does not understand what Israel faces: A senior Israeli official says President Barack Obama demonstrated in his latest Mideast policy speech that “Washington does not understand what we face.” The official says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was disappointed the speech did not address the Palestinian demand to repatriate to Israel millions of Palestinians, most descendants of people who were driven from or fled homes in the war over the Jewish state’s 1948 creation. Speaking Friday ahead of Netanyahu’s White House meeting with Obama, the official said, “There is a sense that Washington does not understand the reality, that Washington does not understand what we face.” Netanyahu arrived in Washington early Friday…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • Netanyahu to Confront Obama With ‘Reality,’ Israelis Say: Even as he flew to Washington for talks at the White House on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to signal his anger with President Obama’s statement on Thursday that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” While it has been a central point of negotiations for years that Israel would swap at least some of the land it seized during the Six-Day War in 1967 for peace, Mr. Netanhayu was apparently disappointed that Mr. Obama had failed to mention specifically the idea that Israel should be allowed to redraw its borders to include the parts of the West Bank where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have settled since the land was occupied. In a written response to Mr. Obama’s speech on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu’s office suggested that the Obama administration should be bound by “U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004,” by President George W. Bush. In a letter to the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon that year, Mr. Bush had called a return to the borders of 1967 “unrealistic,” given “already existing major Israeli populations centers” on the West Bank…. – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Netanyahu brings starkly different vision to Obama’s White House: While President Obama has voiced support for pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East, the instability has made Israel’s Netanyahu wary of making concessions for peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a US visit today at the White House, bringing with him a fundamentally different vision of the Middle East than the one presented by President Barack Obama in a major policy speech yesterday. As Mr. Obama encourages democratic reforms across the Arab world, he meets the leader of a nation deeply wary about the regional instability wrought by six months of Arab uprisings. Israeli officials emphasize that the rising influence of political Islam and efforts by Iran to expand its footprint in the region make concessions for peace riskier than ever. “If we warned before, our concerns have been reinforced,’’ says Zalman Shoval, a Netanyahu aide. “While we hope that this will lead to democratization, there’s no guarantee…. Nobody really knows the answers.”… – CS Monitor, 5-20-11
  • Damage control on the Middle East speech: President Obama blew it yesterday. The Israelis are infuriated, numerous sharp-eyed lawmakers spotted the forced concessions Obama was demanding of Israel and, if former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block is any indication, the most prominent pro-Israel Jewish group is very, very worried. So what does Obama do? He reverses course — fast! On the BBC last night, Obama immediately nixed his definitive language on the 1967 borders and reverted to language that sounded more in tune with that of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush:To the BBC, the president said, “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.” The president said that the Israelis “will not be able to move forward unless they feel that they themselves can defend their territory particularly given what they have seen happen in Gaza and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah.” That is as sure a sign as any that the speech was an overstep, and a misstep, that the Israelis are infuriated and that Obama is now in a pinch…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • Obama’s Peace Tack Contrasts With Key Aide, Friend of Israel: Five days ago, during a closed-door meeting with a group of Middle East experts, administration officials, and journalists, King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians. Dennis B. Ross, right, with Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997. Mr. Ross has served as a Middle East envoy for several presidents…. By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town. His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis. But now, as the president is embarking on a course that, once again, puts him at odds with Israel’s conservative prime minister, the question is how much of a split the president is willing to make not only with the Israeli leader, but with his own hand-picked Middle East adviser…. – NYT, 5-20-11
  • Obama’s Take on the Middle East The U.S. President says he believes in a separate Palestinian state: In an unprecedented speech on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressly conveyed the long held yet rarely stated U.S. policy that the borders of a future Palestinian state should reflect those prior to the 1967 Middle East conflict…. Reaction to the speech has been mixed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have initially rejected the parameters of the speech. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas apparently called an “urgent meeting” of Palestinian leaders. Obama stated that a fundamental shift in U.S. policy must transpire, lest the divide with the Arab world grow ever more expansive. “A failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world,” Obama said. – Shalom Life, 5-20-11
  • AIPAC: Don’t Boo Obama!: AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg has sent an e-mail to delegates not to boo President Barack Obama during his speech to the AIPAC annual policy conference on Sunday. “We ask that you act and react to every speech, address, and briefing, that will be offered as part of the conference program in only the most positive manner,” Rosenberg wrote. Rosenberg’s e-mail is clearly targeted at responses to Obama’s speech, as there is no concern that the AIPAC delegates will heckle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or other Israeli speakers.aipac obama lee rosenberg While top US administration officials (usually the president or vice president) always reiterate the US’s commitment to Israel’s security, calls for talks with the Palestinians, or to show flexibility, are liable to inflame some delegates. Whistles and boos, or alternatively a thunderous silence or weak handclapping, have been heard in past appearances. AIPAC’s leadership wants to avoid such spontaneous protests during Obama’s speech, especially now, when no one knows what his message will be. As far as AIPAC is concerned booing the President would be a public relations disaster…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11
  • Israel rejects pre-’67 lines as condition for peace Prime minister warns President Barack Obama old borders indefensible: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told President Barack Obama on Friday that he shared his vision for a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and then promptly listed a series of nonnegotiable conditions that have kept the two sides at an impasse for years. Sitting at Obama’s side in the Oval Office, the Israeli leader rejected compromises of the sort Obama had outlined the day before in hopes of reviving a moribund peace process. Obama, who had sought to emphasize Israel’s concerns in his remarks moments earlier, stared back. In his public remarks, delivered after a meeting that lasted more than two hours, Netanyahu warned against “a peace based on illusions,” seemingly leaving the prospect for new talks as remote as they have been since the last significant U.S. push for peace collapsed last fall. Officials said that the meeting was productive, but that there were no plans for formal negotiations or any mechanisms in place to push the two sides forward. Most significant among his public objections, Netanyahu said that Israel would not accept a return to the boundaries that existed before the war in 1967 gave it control of the West Bank and Gaza, calling them indefensible…. – Albany Times-Union, 5-20-11
  • Next Israel-US Crisis Brewing in Jerusalem: The next diplomatic crisis between the US and Israel has arrived. On the eve of his departure for Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved discussion of construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Several hours ahead of President Barack Obama’s policy speech on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and a couple of hours before Netanyahu himself flies to the US for a meeting with Obama on Friday, the Ministry of Interior regional planning and building committee will discuss the construction of 1,550 housing units in Har Homa in southeast Jerusalem and Pisgat Ze’ev in northeast Jerusalem, both neighborhoods over the 1967 “Green Line.” Discussion on these plans have already been postponed several times, and the cabinet secretary has now finally approved them at an especially sensitive moment…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11
  • Obama Elaborates on Call for 67 Borders: President Obama has elaborated upon his call for the 1967 lines to serve as the basis for a Palestinian state’s border in an interview with the BBC.obama sitting “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,” Obama told the BBC Thursday in an interview following his Middle East policy 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 added. “They will not be able to move forward unless they feel that they themselves can defend their territory, particularly given what they’ve seen happen in Gaza and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah.” In his speech, Obama had said that the borders of a Palestinian state “should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded with a statement calling the 1967 lines “indefensible” for Israel…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11

QUOTES

President Barack Obama Meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of IsraelPresident Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office, May 20, 2011. (by Pete Souza)

  • President Obama Hosts Prime Minister Netanyahu: “An Extremely Constructive Discussion”: A day after the President’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa, where he spoke on the changes sweeping the region as well as the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the President hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel for a lengthy meeting. Afterwards they both spoke to the press in the Oval Office, and the President described their discussion as focusing on the same themes as his speech, including support for reforms in countries throughout the region…. – WH, 5-20-11Transcript
  • Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu Following Their Meeting at the White House: THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 1:56 P.M. EDT, FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011 PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me first of all welcome once again Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, I think, has — has now been here seven times during the course of my presidency. And I want to indicate that the frequency of these meetings is an indication of the extraordinary bond between our two countries, as is the opportunity for the prime minister to address Congress during his visit here. I know that’s — that’s an honor that’s reserved for those who have always shown themselves to be a great friend of the United States and — and is indicative of the friendship between our countries. We just completed a prolonged and extremely useful conversation, touching on a wide range of issues. We discussed first of all the changes that are sweeping the region and what has been happening in places like Egypt and Syria and how they affect the interests and security of the United States and Israel, as well as the opportunity for prosperity, growth and development in the Arab world. We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring, but also acknowledged that there are significant perils as well and that it’s going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold. I outlined for the prime minister some of the issues that I discussed in my speech yesterday, how important it was going to be for the United States to support political reform, support human rights, support freedom of speech, religious tolerance and economic development, particularly in Egypt as the largest Arab country; as well as Tunisia, the country that first started this revolutionary movement that’s taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. We also discussed the situation in Syria, which is obviously of acute concern to Israel, given its shared border. And I gave more details to the prime minister about the significant steps that we are taking to try to pressure Syria and the Assad regime to reform, including the sanctions that we placed directly on President Assad. We continued to share our deep concerns about Iran, not only the threat that it poses to Israel but also the threat that it poses to the region and the world if it were to develop a nuclear weapon. We updated our strategy to continue to apply pressure, both through sanctions and our other diplomatic work. And I reiterated my belief that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. We also discussed the hypocrisy of Iran, suggesting that it somehow supports democratization in the Middle East when in fact they first showed the repressive nature of that regime when they responded to (the ?) own peaceful protests that took place inside Iran almost two years ago. Finally, we discussed the issue of a prospective peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And I reiterated and we discussed in depth the principles that I laid out yesterday, the belief that our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state. Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends. But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats and that Israel’s security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal. I said that yesterday in the speech, and I continue to believe it. And I think that it is possible for us to shape a deal that allows Israel to secure itself, not to be vulnerable, but also allows it to resolve what has obviously been a wrenching issue for both peoples for decades now. I also pointed out, as I said in the speech yesterday, that it is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses acknowledge its right to exist. And so that — for that reason, I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas has been, and is, an organization that has resorted to terror, that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s rights to exist. It is — it is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process. And so, as I said yesterday during the speech, the Palestinians are going to have to explain how they can credibly engage in serious peace negotiations in the absence of observing the Quartet principles that have been put forward previously. So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion. And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue, and that together, hopefully, we are going to be able to work to usher in a new period of peace and prosperity in a region that is going to be going through some very profound transformations in the coming weeks, months and years. So, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. Great to see you. PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President. PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President. Well, Mr. President — and first, I want to thank you and the first lady for the gracious hospitality that you’ve shown me, my wife and our entire delegation. We have an enduring bond of friendship between our two countries. And I appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting with you after your important speech yesterday. We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East. I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now and in our conversation, and in actual deed, the commitment to Israel’s security. We value your efforts to advance the peace process. This is something that we want to have accomplished. Israel wants peace. I want peace. What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure. And I think that the — we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only — the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts. I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of 9 miles wide — half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive from them. So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the president. I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make. The second is — echoes something the president just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas. Hamas, as the president said, is a terrorist organization, committed to Israel’s destruction. It’s fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children. It’s recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a — at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy. And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden. So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaida. I think President Abbas has a simple choice. He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel. And I — I can only express what I said to you just now: that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, of choosing peace with Israel. But a third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state but certainly not in the borders of Israel. The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems, Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel: accept the grandchildren, really, and the great-grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state. So that’s not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly, it’s not going to happen. The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved. And it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in Palestinian state. That’s a real possibility. But it’s not going to be resolved within the Jewish state. The president and I discussed all of these issues, and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there is an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, a peace that is defensible. Mr. President, you are the — you are the leader of a great people, the American people. And I am the leader of a much smaller people. The — PRESIDENT OBAMA: A great people. PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: It’s a great people too. It’s the ancient nation of Israel. And you know, we’ve been around for almost 4,000 years. We have experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions. But I can say that even at the dearth of — even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel. And now it falls on my shoulders as the prime minister of Israel at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error and because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance. So, in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors and give a better future for Israel and for the entire region. And I thank you for the opportunity to exchange our views and to work together for this common end. Thank you, Mr. President. PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. – Israel Embassy, 5-21-11
  • Pro-Israel push for magic words from Obama: Josh Block, the former AIPAC spokesman and a pro-Israel stalwart now at the Progressive Policy Institute, this morning emailed over quotes from several pro-Israel Democratic legislators unhappy with the White House move to formally embrace the 1967 lines around Israel as the basis for future negotiation. He also suggested language with which Obama could “make clear” something that, unless you’re very close to the page, already seemed fairly clear: That he’s not proposing withdrawal to the ’67 lines. The language Block suggests: Everyone understands the lines as they were in 1949/1967 are not defensible, and no one can expect Israel to accept them as final borders, but they can form the basis for negotiation, as they have in the past. As I have said, changes must be mutually agreed, and swaps should compensate for territory exchanged…. – AP, 5-21-11
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, The Prime Minister of Israel: PMO Announcement following President Obama’s speech: Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state. That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel. Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace. Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River. Prime Minister Netanyahu will also express his disappointment over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas, a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as over Mahmoud Abbas’s recently expressed views which grossly distort history and make clear that Abbas seeks a Palestinian state in order to continue the conflict with Israel rather than end it. – PM Israel, Facebook, 5-20-11
  • Eric Cantor: The President needs to join the bipartisan majority in Congress and say that the United States’ security in the region goes hand in hand with Israel’s, and that our country is going to stand with our democratic ally.
  • Joseph Lieberman: Unfortunately, President Obama’s important and constructive speech embracing and supporting the peaceful, democratic revolutions in the Arab world was also undermined by an unhelpful and surprising set of remarks about Israel and the Palestinians that will not advance the peace process and in fact is likely to set it back. While the President made some strong statements about the “unshakeable” support for Israel’s security and rightly criticized the Palestinian pursuit of a symbolic statehood declaration at the UN in September, his unilateral call for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps — the first time any president has adopted this position — was profoundly ill-advised. As in the case of the President’s counterproductive demand for a settlement freeze two years ago, unilateral statements of this sort do nothing to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table and in fact make it harder for them to do so. They also damage the relationship of trust that is critical to peacemaking. In particular, the President’s remarks have revived and exacerbated fears in Israel about the commitment and understanding of this Administration with regard to their unique security situation. The fact is, while the exciting and hopeful new reality in the Arab world is the Arab spring, the newest reality in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not hopeful. It is the threatening new unity government between the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, a group which the U.S. government has long designated as terrorist because it is committed to violence and the destruction of Israel. In the days ahead, I hope President Obama will make clear Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas unity government until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions. I also hope that the President will make clear that his Administration recognizes the 1967 borders themselves are no longer an acceptable endpoint for negotiations because they do not allow Israel to defend itself, and that any peace agreement must reflect new realities on the ground, including the major new Israeli communities that have grown up since 1967, and the need for an extended presence by the IDF in the Jordan River Valley. In the past few months, the forces of freedom and self-determination have begun to move inexorably through the region. It is in that movement where we can find the greatest hope for peace between neighbors in the region, including Israelis and Palestinians. Full Statement
  • Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Statement: “I commend President Obama for reiterating to the entire world — including the 22 Arab countries that surround Israel — that the United States has an unshakable commitment to the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel. I agree with the President that the United Nations is not the place to negotiate the final parameters of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and that Israel should not be forced to talk with parties, such as Hamas, that don’t recognize its right to exist and seek to drive it into the sea. A two-state solution agreed upon by the Israelis and Palestinians should be negotiated through direct talks, but it is important to remember that a full return to the 1967 borders will be indefensible for Israel and that talking with terrorists who want to destroy Israel is a non-starter.”
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.): First, I am unclear as to why the President did not recount the three conditions of the Quartet, comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, for dealing with Hamas. (1) Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, (2) Hamas must renounce terrorism, and (3) Hamas must commit to all of the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. Those conditions, laid down in 2006, establish the foundation of our policy toward Hamas and must not be disregarded or glossed over. Further, we cannot expect Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority which has Hamas, a terrorist organization, as a working partner until Hamas accepts these conditions. Second, the 1967 armistice lines were simply not defensible, and Israel must not be made to return to them. Moreover, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which forms the basis of any future peace between Israelis and Palestinians, does not require Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines in exchange for peace. The President is correct that land swaps built into a peace agreement could make Israel’s borders safe and secure, but make no mistake about it – such territorial adjustments would be very significant so that Israel would no longer be 9 miles wide at its narrowest point. The reason that there has been no progress toward a peace agreement is that the Palestinians have refused to sit down with Israel and have used every excuse under the sun to refuse to negotiate. President Abbas, with all his talk of moderation, has been anything but. It is time to tell the Palestinians that the only way to statehood is through negotiations at the bargaining table, not through unilateral actions. The President still has the opportunity to elaborate on these points when he speaks on Sunday about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and I, for one, will listen carefully to what he has to say.” Full Statement
  • Florida Republican Allen West also blasted Obama’s speech in a statement he released and which was quoted by Newsmax: “Today’s endorsement by President Barack Obama of the creation of a Hamas-led Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, signals the most egregious foreign policy decision his administration has made to date, and could be the beginning of the end as we know it for the Jewish state,” said West. “The pre-1967 borders endorsed by President Obama would deny millions of the world’s Jews access to their holiest site and force Israel to return the strategically important Golan Heights to Syria, a known state-sponsor of terrorism,” he added and emphasized that “there has always been a Nation of Israel and Jerusalem has been and must always be recognized as its rightful capital.” West also said that “the Hamas-run Palestinian state envisioned by President Obama would be devastating to Israel and the world’s 13.3 million Jews. It would be a Pavlovian style reward to a declared Islamic terrorist organization, and an unacceptable policy initiative.” He called for the United States to “never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority- which has aligned itself with Hamas.” – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11
  • Mitt Romney: “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” Former Massachusetts governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a statement quoted on Politico.com. “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”
  • Michele Bachmann: Minnesota House member Michele Bachmann also responded to the presidential speech, saying on her Twitter account that Obama had “betrayed our friend and ally Israel. Obama’s call for 1967 borders will cause chaos, division & more aggression in Middle East and put Israel at further risk.”
  • Tim Pawlenty: Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, also a potential Republican candidate for the presidency, called Obama’s call for Israel return to the so-called ’1967 borders’ – the 1949 Armistice Lines which are considered indefensible by defense experts – “a mistaken a very dangerous demand.” In a statement quoted in Politico, Pawlenty said that “the city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided. To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen. At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it’s never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem.” – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-20-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Dore Gold: Israel’s 1967 Borders Aren’t Defensible: Fair observers have never considered the old armistice line as a non-negotiable starting point for peace talks. It’s no secret that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to lobby the U.N. General Assembly this September for a resolution that will predetermine the results of any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on borders. He made clear in a New York Times op-ed this week that he will insist that member states recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 lines, meaning Israel’s boundaries before the Six Day War. Unfortunately, even President Barack Obama appears to have been influenced by this thinking. He asserted in a speech Thursday that Israel’s future borders with a Palestinian state “should be based on the 1967 lines,” a position he tried to offset by offering “mutually agreed land swaps.” Mr. Abbas has said many times that any land swaps would be minuscule. Remember that before the Six Day War, those lines in the West Bank only demarcated where five Arab armies were halted in their invasion of the nascent state of Israel 19 years earlier. Legally, they formed only an armistice line, not a recognized international border. No Palestinian state ever existed that could have claimed these prewar lines. Jordan occupied the West Bank after the Arab invasion, but its claim to sovereignty was not recognized by any U.N. members except Pakistan and the U.K. As Jordan’s U.N. ambassador said before the war, the old armistice lines “did not fix boundaries.” Thus the central thrust of Arab-Israeli diplomacy for more than 40 years was that Israel must negotiate an agreed border with its Arab neighbors. The cornerstone of all postwar diplomacy was U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed in November 1967. It did not demand that Israel pull back completely to the pre-1967 lines. Its withdrawal clause only called on Israel to withdraw “from territories,” not from all territories. Britain’s foreign secretary at the time, George Brown, later underlined the distinction: “The proposal said ‘Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied,’ and not from ‘the’ territories, which means that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories.” Prior to the Six Day War, Jerusalem had been sliced in two, and the Jewish people were denied access to the Old City and its holy sites. Jerusalem’s Christian population also faced limitations. As America’s ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, would explain, Resolution 242 did not preclude Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem. In fact, Resolution 242 became the only agreed basis of all Arab-Israeli peace agreements, from the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace to the 1993 Oslo Agreements between Israel and the Palestinians…. – WSJ, 5-20-11
  • ‘Borders’ vs. ‘lines’: A distinction with meaning: Lines, borders, boundaries. Distinctions without a difference? Not legally, and certainly not in the Middle East, where President Obama’s prescription that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” of land to create “secure and recognized borders” for both states, triggered ire in supporters of Israel after many media outlets, paraphrasing Obama’s Thursday speech, used “lines” and “borders” interchangeably. “The so-called 1967 borders are not borders at all, just armistice lines,” said attorney John Smith, of Reed Smith, the Philadelphia firm with an international law group and eight overseas offices. Israel has “honest-to-goodness . . . bona fide borders” with Egypt and Jordan, which were created by treaties, Smith said. But its boundary with the West Bank, which Israel conquered after being attacked by Arab armies in 1967, is merely a tracing on military maps, not a demarcation with a border’s permanence and legal weight. The U.N. partition plan of 1947 called for a Jewish state of Israel, an Arab state, and international control over Jerusalem, said Paul Scham, a professor of Israeli studies at the University of Maryland, in College Park. “But fighting started shortly after the U.N. resolution,” Scham said. “Israel not only defended the areas that were to be Jewish, it expanded into areas that were supposed to be the Palestinian state. Then five Arab armies invaded in 1948, to support the Palestinians and grab territory for themselves. “At the end of the war, which Israelis call the War of Independence, Jordan held what we now call the West Bank, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. The armistice lines reflect where the armies were when the cease-fire happened” in 1949…. – PA Inquirer, 5-21-11
  • Obama’s speech: where’s the followup?: Days after President Obama’s big Middle East speech at the State Department, the Jewish left is caught between skepticism and hope, the right is on the warpath – and I suspect most American Jews are wondering what the fuss is all about. Yes, President Obama uttered the words “1967 borders” on Thursday along with “mutually agreed swaps,” all of which has been more or less U.S. policy for a long time even though that particular rhetorical formulation hasn’t been used. What both sides seem to be missing is that President Obama didn’t say a word about how he plans to follow up on his words. And I suspect that’s no accident…. – The NY Jewish Week, 5-21-11
  • Lowell Ponte: What Does Obama Gain by Snubbing Israel?: American politics underwent a tectonic shift this week, a change that apparently reflects a huge shift in political money and global power. Breaking with more than half a century of bipartisan U.S. policy on the Middle East, President Barack Obama appeared to turn against our longtime ally Israel. He called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be based on Israel retreating to its pre-1967 borders, a boundary to be altered only by “a few swaps” of land between the parties. To those of us who have stood near the old Syrian cannon emplacements on the Golan Heights looking down on the Galilee and Tiberius, or who have landed at Israel’s international airport within 3 miles of the pre-1967 border, or who understand that this would produce an indefensible Israel only 8 miles wide at its narrowest point, Obama’s proposal seems bizarre. As recently as 2005, President George W. Bush promised Israel, in exchange for new concessions, that the United States would not press Israel to return to the 1967 borders. This week President Obama broke that pledge by our government. Obama’s new pressure on Israel, he knows, will alienate many American Jews. Jews comprise only about 2 percent of America’s population, but this mostly-Democratic bloc turns out to vote, and 80 percent in 2008 voted for him…. – Newsmax, 5-20-11
  • The blowup with Israel: PRESIDENT OBAMA and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have a powerful and urgent common interest. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has turned his back on both Israel and the United States; he is seeking accommodation with the extremist Hamas movement and has announced that he will seek a declaration of Palestinian statehood from the U.N. General Assembly in September. The result could be what Mr. Netanyahu’s defense minister calls “a diplomatic tsunami” against Israel and possibly the eruption of another Israeli-Palestinian war. As for the United States, the U.N. vote could isolate it in support of Israel, undermine the ambitious strategy that Mr. Obama has just announced to promote democracy in the Arab world — and maybe derail the Arab Spring itself. Now, of all times, the Israeli and U.S. governments ought to be working closely together; they should be trying to defuse the U.N. threat, induce Mr. Abbas to change course, and above all prevent a resumption of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, Friday found Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu once again publicly and poisonously at odds with each other, thanks to a handful of lines added by Mr. Obama to his Middle East speech on Thursday. The president’s decision to publicly endorse terms for a peace settlement seemingly calculated to appeal to Mr. Abbas, over the strong objections of Mr. Netanyahu, has had the effect of distracting attention from the new U.S. agenda for the region…. – WaPo, 5-20-11
  • What’s really behind harsh GOP responses to Obama’s Middle East speech: How much of the Republican candidates’ harsh reaction to President Obama’s policy speech on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue was campaign strategy?… Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is trying to recover from a terrible campaign rollout week, called Obama’s speech a “disaster.” “I understand he has already in effect offered concessions to the Palestinians, in advance of anything the Israelis do, in a way that could be a significant security threat to the Israelis,” Mr. Gingrich told reporters following him in Iowa. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who is best known for his strongly conservative views on social issues but has also given speeches devoted to foreign policy, also reacted harshly: “The current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies.”… – CS Monitor, 5-20-11
  • Israel’s 1967 borders: Three reasons Obama’s stance is a very big deal: In the subtle world of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Obama’s step – describing the 1967 borders as something more than a ‘Palestinian goal’ – could signal a significant policy shift…. – CS Monitor, 5-20-11
  • ANALYSIS Harman: Netanyahu Could ‘Be the Peacemaker Israel Has Been Seeking’: SUMMARY President Obama met Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after delivering a U.S. policy speech calling for a return to pre-1967 borders. Judy Woodruff discusses what comes next in the peace process with former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. – PBS Newshour, 5-20-11
  • ANALYSIS After Obama Speech, What’s Next for Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Relations?: SUMMARY In a speech Thursday, President Obama called for support of democratic reforms in the Arab world and steps toward peace in the Middle East. Jeffrey Brown discusses the president’s address and U.S. policy with reporter Mona Eltahawy, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and American University of Beirut’s Rami Khouri…. – PBS Newshour, 5-19-11
  • Sean Hannity: Reaction to Obama’s Israel Rhetoric Ranges From ‘Historic’ to ‘Shameful’: Special Guests: Michael Ghouse, author of “They Must Be Stopped” & president for Act for America, Brigitte Gabriel SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Now in a speech today President Obama may have radically altered U.S. foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but he completely failed to address all the other ongoing Mideast conflicts and what America should be doing about them. Take Libya for instance. Now, time has run out on the administration’s 60-day occupation limit as provided by the War Powers Resolution and now the White House must obtain Congressional approval for the war in Libya by tomorrow in order to continue deploying troops there. But there was noticeably no mention of this pressing situation or the impending deadline in today’s speech. Also missing was any reference to the disturbing fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely about to take over Egypt and with its strict interpretation of Sharia law put an end to things like freedom of speech, religious diversity, and gender equality. Joining me now with reaction is the President of the American Together Foundation — is Michael Ghouse and the author of “They Must Be Stopped,” the president for Act for America, Brigitte Gabriel…. – Fox News, 5-19-11
  • Dershowitz: Obama made ‘serious mistake’ (Video): BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Israeli advocate and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz says President Obama hurt the Middle East peace process by calling for 1967 borders as a starting point… – CNN, 5-20-11

Political Highlights May 19, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on the Middle East Advocates Israel Returning to Pre-1967 Borders

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Doug Mills/The New York Times

IN FOCUS

  • Obama Backs Mideast Plan Based on 1967 Borders: Declaring that “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” President Obama said that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must embody two sovereign states based on pre-1967 borders.

THE HEADLINES….

  • As Obama Endorses ’67 Borders, Netanyahu Objects: President Obama’s endorsement on Thursday of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute based on the 1967 borders — the first time an American president has explicitly endorsed those borders as the baseline for negotiations over a Palestinian state — prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to push back and the Palestinian leadership to call an urgent meeting.
    Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement just before boarding a plane to Washington that while he appreciated Mr. Obama’s commitment to peace, he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of American commitments made to Israel in 2004 which were overwhelmingly supported by both houses of Congress.”
    Those commitments came in a letter from President George W. Bush that stated, among other things, that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” which was another way of describing the 1967 boundaries…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama Endorses 1967 Borders for Israel: Seeking to harness the seismic political change still unfolding in the Arab world, President Obama for the first time on Thursday publicly called for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would create a non-militarized Palestinian state on the basis of Israel’s borders before 1967.
    “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever,” he said.
    Although Mr. Obama said that “the core issues” dividing Israelis and Palestinians remain to be negotiated, including the searing questions of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, he spoke with striking frustration that efforts to support an agreement had so far failed. “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome,” he said.
    The outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement came in what the president called “a moment of opportunity” following six months of political upheaval that has at times left the administration scrambling to keep up. The speech was an attempt to articulate a cohesive American policy to an Arab Spring that took a dark turn as the euphoria of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt gave way to violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria, a civil war in Libya and political stalemate in Yemen…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama Speech Backlash on Call to Reinstate 1967 Mideast Borders: President Obama’s call this afternoon for Israel and Palestine to redraw boundaries based on 1967 lines has already generated backlash.
    “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” the president said in a wide-ranging, Mideast speech at the State Department.
    “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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.”
    The suggestion landed with a thud in Israel, where some skeptics worry that such a border makes the country less secure. The country will object to any “indefensible” borders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
    “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence,” said Netanyahu, who is expected to arrive here in Washington Friday.
    Netanyahu’s office tweeted its clear disapproval of the president’s reference to the 1967 borders.
    “Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress,” the office wrote on Twitter. “Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.”… – ABC News, 5-19-11
  • Obama pledges new aid to Mideast nations embracing democracy: Under pressure from key allies to act more decisively on several volatile issues in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama on Thursday promised new U.S. aid to nations that embrace democracy while he also condemned attacks on demonstrators, notably in Syria.
    Saying that the future of the United States is bound to the region in a number of ways, Obama said he was focused on “how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.”
    In what was billed as a major speech meant to define U.S. interests in the region amid the wave of change known as the Arab Spring, Obama was unveiling a series of economic initiatives to encourage democracy there, including aid for Tunisia and a total of $2 billion in debt relief and loan guarantees for Egypt’s fledgling government.
    Speaking at the State Department before an audience of U.S. diplomats, administration officials and foreign envoys, Obama made his first broad attempt to place the region’s wave of popular uprisings, which have swept away autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatened several others, in the context of American interests and values. Aides said he felt it was importrant to address the armed rebellion in Libya, the uprising in Syria and the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
    The speech was aimed in part at reassuring allies alarmed by what they perceive as drift in Obama’s policy in the rapidly changing region, after weeks when Osama bin Laden’s killing and a domestic debate over the national debt took center stage…. – WaPo, 5-19-11
  • Obama Lays Out U.S. Policy on Arab World Amid Uprisings: With a backdrop of continuing anti-government protests in the Arab world and criticism from some corners over a perceived uneven U.S. response, President Obama said in a major policy speech Thursday that the U.S. would use its influence and economic power to support the region’s transitions to democracy.
    “Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States,” he said.
    The president said that for decades, the United States has pursued a set of interests, including countering terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, securing the flow of commerce and security in the region, and standing up for Israel’s security along with pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.
    And while the U.S. would continue to do these things, “we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind,” he said.
    President Obama also acknowledged that “we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by force — no matter how well-intended it may be.”… – PBS Newshour, 5-19-11
  • Barack Obama throws full US support behind Middle East uprisings: • President unveils shift in US policy towards Arab countries
    • ‘Status quo not sustainable,’ he warns region’s autocracies
    • Sets out two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
    • Tells Syria’s Assad to lead transition or ‘get out of way’
    Barack Obama has sought to realign US policy on the Middle East, promising to shift from the long-held American backing for autocratic regimes to support for pro-democracy movements – and pledging to set out the shape of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
    “The status quo is not sustainable,” Obama said in a major speech at the state department in Washington on Thursday, the first on the Middle East since he spoke in Cairo in 2009.
    In a speech dubbed Cairo 2, he threw US weight behind the protesters, saying: “We face a historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator … After decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
    He was addressing criticism that America has moved too slowly in response to the pro-democracy movements sweeping the region.
    As well as support for the newly emerging democracies in Egypt and Tunisia, he criticised long-term US allies such as Bahrain, where America has a large naval base, for its suppression of democracy movements…. – Guardian UK, 5-19-11
  • President Obama has message for Mideast regimes: We’ll give you aid, if you promote reform: President Obama proposed billions in economic aid Thursday to reward Mideast regimes that reform, delivering a much-hyped speech on U.S. policy toward a region rocked by upheaval.
    “Square by square, town by town, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights,” Obama told an audience at the U.S. State Department. “And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics, security, by history, by faith.”
    Obama embraced the sea change triggered in Tunisia and vowed to support the growing freedom movement across the Arab world.
    “We have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals,” Obama said.
    “The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they’re built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.”… – NY Daily News, 5-19-11
  • Obama Addresses ‘Extraordinary Change’ in Middle East, North Africa: ‘In Libya, we had a mandate to take action,’ says President Obama. ‘Syrian government must stop unjustified arrests of protesters.’
    U.S. President Barack Obama has welcomed the “extraordinary change” taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, but said too many countries have met the calls for change with violence.
    Mr. Obama, speaking Thursday at the State Department, said the most extreme example is Libya, where he said Moammar Gadhafi launched a war against his own people. He said thousands of people would have been killed in Libya if the United States and its partners did not act.
    He said Syria has also chosen the “path of murder and mass arrests.” Mr. Obama called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to either lead a transition to democracy or “get out the way.” He called on the Syrian government to stop shooting protestors, allow peaceful protests and stop unjust arrests.
    Mr. Obama noted that in the last six months two leaders have been replaced in the Middle East and North Africa, and he said “more may follow” as people rise up to demand their basic rights.
    He said it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and support a transition to democracy. He said that effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia…. – VOA, 5-19-11
  • Obama: Israel must act boldly: In major policy speech, President Obama says ‘Israel must act boldly to advance lasting peace,’ stresses status quo ‘unsustainable.’ Border between Israel, Palestinians to be based on 1967 lines, he says
    Israel must act boldly in order to advance a peace agreement with the Palestinians, President Barack Obama said in his highly anticipated Mideast policy speech Thursday, presenting his vision for future negotiations.
    “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” he said.
    “There are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward (on peace,)” Obama said. “I disagree… the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.”
    Obama blamed both Israel and the Palestinians for failing to meet expectations in their pursuit of peace thus far.
    “Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks,” he said.
    Turning his attention to the Jewish State, the president stressed that America’s friendship with Israel “is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.”
    Obama noted that America’s committed to Israel’s security is “unshakable,” but added that “precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”… – YNet News, 5-19-11
  • Obama: 1967 borders with swaps should serve as basis for negotiations: President Obama said the future state of Palestine should be based on the pre-1967 border with mutually agreed land swaps with Israel.
    In his address Thursday afternoon on U.S. policy in the Middle East, Obama told an audience at the State Department that the borders of a “sovereign, nonmilitarized” Palestinian state “should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
    Negotiations should focus first on territory and security, and then the difficult issues of the status of Jerusalem and what to do about the rights of Palestinian refugees can be breached, Obama said.
    “Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and secuertiy does not mean it will be easy to come back to the table,” Obama said, noting the new unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, a group foreswarn to Israel’s destruction.
    “How can one negotiate with a party that shows itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” Obama said. “Palestinians have to provide a credible answer to that question.”
    The U.S. president did not announce a specific initiative to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.
    The speech, which focused mostly on the Arab democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, marked the first time Obama formally declared that the pre-Six Day War borders should form the basis of negotiations. – JTA, 5-19-11
  • Obama: Israel-Palestine Borders Should Be on 1967 Lines: In his speech on Thursday morning regarding Middle East policy, American President Barack Obama declared that a two-state solution is imperative to the security of the middle east, and that the borders must be based on the 1967 borders of the state of Israel with agreed upon territorial exchange. This, the president claims will provide “security” for both sides.
    “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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
    As for security, 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. 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.”
    The President also stated that nothing can go forward without full Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel on the side of the Palestinians, as well as full cooperation and change of policy from Hamas. Hamas recently signed a formal accord with its opposing party Fatah, and while no leader has yet been named to head this new party, it is clear that this new marriage of Palestinian leaders is not in Israel’s best interest as Hamas has declared repeatedly that all Jews should be killed and Israel does not actually exist.
    Recently, a Hamas official stated that while Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, it will not agree to recognize Israel formally as the “future generations” must be given the opportunity to “liberate the lands.”
    Briefly addressing the upcoming declaration of a unilateral Palestinian state by the United Nations in September, President Obama reiterated American support of Israel multiple times. “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection… Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.” – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-19-11
  • Obama: Israel, Palestine borders must be based on 1967 lines: Obama says status quo in Mideast and North Africa is not sustainable, stresses U.S. opposes use of violence, oppression against people of the region.
    President Barack Obama said Thursday that the U.S. endorses the Palestinians’ demand for their future state to be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.
    “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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. “
    U.S. President Barack Obama urged Palestinians and Israelis to renew peace talks on Thursday, and stressed that the Palestinians’ efforts to delegitimize Israel will fail.
    “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state,” Obama said. “Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.”
    “As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”… – Haaretz, 5-19-11
  • Obama: America’s future bound to Middle East: President Barack Obama says the future of the U.S. is bound to the Middle East and North Africa by the forces of economics, security, history and fate.
    Obama opened a major speech on U.S. policy in the region by trying to tell Americans why it matters to them even though the countries “may be a great distance from our shores.”
    He made the comments at the State Department Thursday in speech meant as his first comprehensive response to revolts sweeping the Arab world. It was aimed at audiences in the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa, where the State Department was providing simultaneous translation in Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew.
    In his remarks, Mr. Obama addressed the Israel-Palestine conflict, and, in a move that will likely infuriate Israel, endorsed the Palestinians’ demand for their future state to be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war. Israel says the borders of Palestinian state have to be determined through negotiations.
    Mr. Obama sided with the Palestinians’ opening position a day ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to referring to the 1967 borders.
    Until Thursday, the U.S. position had been that the Palestinian goal of a state based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, should be reconciled with Israel’s desire for a secure Jewish state through negotiations…. – CBS News, 5-19-11
  • What Arabs want to hear (or not hear) from Obama speech: In contrast with Obama’s major speech two years ago in Cairo, today’s address on the Middle East has generated little interest in Egypt. But Libyans and Syrians have higher hopes…. – CS Monitor, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East Speech Has Many American Audiences: Thursday’s speech by President Obama on the upheaval in the Middle East is aimed at a global audience. But it will also play out in a domestic — and political — context as Mr. Obama seeks a second term in the White House.
    Since taking office, Mr. Obama has sought to strike a balance between reaching out to the Muslim world while also combating terrorism and pushing for progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The as-yet unfulfilled promise of that approach, which he described in a speech in Cairo in 2009, helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency.
    But the effort to construct a cohesive narrative for American voters about his administration’s efforts in the region has proved more difficult. The peace process has been largely halted. The move away from Bush-era terrorism policies has gone more slowly than expected. And the uprisings in the Arab world have forced case-by-case decisions that sometimes appear contradictory…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East speech — how far will he go?: We know many of the topics President Obama will discuss in this morning’s Middle East speech. The question is: How far will he go?
    For example, we suspect Obama will talk about the sanctions his government slapped yesterday on Syrian President Bashar Assad. But will he call on Assad to step aside in light of his government’s attacks on pro-democracy protesters?
    Obama is also expected to call for revived peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, despite recent clashes between the two. But how much pressure will he put on either side, especially with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coming to town for a presidential meeting on Friday?
    We know that Obama will announce plans for new economic aid to Tunisia and Egypt, countries that actually threw off authoritarian governments earlier this year; but how much money does that involve?… – USA Today, 5-19-11
  • Obama Speech to Test Extent of U.S. Influence: When President Barack Obama outlines his vision of U.S. policy in the Middle East today, his challenge will be to get people in the region to care.
    The excitement generated by Obama’s call two years ago for a “new beginning” in U.S.-Arab relations evaporated as people waited for changes that haven’t come, said Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations and others who study the region.
    As protests have swept the Arab world, toppling some leaders and challenging others, U.S. influence has been diminished by a response seen as cautious and inconsistent, Danin and other analysts said. And the U.S. has suffered some very public diplomatic setbacks in dealing with Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and the Israelis and Palestinians.
    “It’s not clear what the United States says right now matters to the people of the Middle East,” Danin said. “The people of the Arab world are more interested in seeing what the United States does, not what it has to say.”… – Bloomberg, 5-19-11
  • Focus Is on Obama as Tensions Soar Across Mideast: Few game-changing proposals are emerging to defuse tensions in the Middle East as a busy week of diplomacy unfolds with President Obama’s address to the region and his meeting with Israel’s prime minister.
    Against the backdrop of Middle East uprisings that have intensified animus toward Israel and growing momentum for global recognition of a Palestinian state, American and Israeli officials are struggling to balance national security interests against the need to adapt to a transformative movement in the Arab world.
    The White House unveiled a $2 billion multiyear economic aid package for Egypt, which officials say would largely shift existing funds. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel prepared to arrive in Washington with a package that he hoped would shift the burden of restarting the peace process to the Palestinians.
    Mr. Obama, who is set to address Americans — and, more significantly, Muslims around the world — from the State Department on Thursday morning, may yet have something surprising up his sleeve. One administration official said that there remained debate about whether Mr. Obama would formally endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state, a move that would send an oratorical signal that the United States expected Israel to make concessions…. – NYT, 5-18-11

QUOTES

President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photo: AP

President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011

  • TEXT: Obama’s Mideast Speech: Following is a text of President Obama’s prepared speech on the Middle East, delivered on Thursday in Washington, as released by the White House:
    I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark – one million frequent flyer miles. I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.
    The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square; town by town; country by country; the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith.
    Today, I would like to talk about this change – the forces that are driving it, and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security. Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader – Osama bin Laden.
    Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy – not what he could build.
    Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Clinton introduces Obama address, says US vital in Mideast: Opening US President Barak Obama’s Middle East speech on Thursday, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that the “president’s clear vision, and pure principles” show the “indispensable role [the US] must play in the Middle East.”
    Clinton said “America’s leadership is more essential than ever,” and that the “US must lead in a new and innovative way.” She thanked the State Department, where Obama was speaking, for doing work “engaging with citizens in the streets and through social networks as [Middle East citizens] move from protests to politics.”… – JPost, 5-19-11
  • Netanyahu’s Office Tweets Disapproving Response to President Obama’s Speech: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office twitter account — run by Dr. Eitan Eliram, new media director of the prime minister’s office –- sent out a rapid succession of tweets stating clear disapproval with the president’s reference to the 1967 borders:
    “Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state… cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state,” the tweets state. “That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel. Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace. Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.”… – ABC News, 5-19-11
  • Mitt Romney: Obama threw Israel ‘under the bus’ in speech: President Obama “has thrown Israel under the bus,” potential rival Mitt Romney said in a statement responding to the president’s speech on Middle East policy Thursday
    The former Massachusetts governor criticizes Obama for endorsing a call for Israel to withdraw to borders that were in place before the 1967 war in the interests of achieving peace.
    “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace,” Romney said. “He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”… – LAT, 5-19-11
  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), another candidate seeking to challenge Obama, later reacted more broadly to the policy Obama outlined for the region: “No speech can make up for the lost time and opportunity President Obama has squandered,” he said. “The current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies.”
  • President Obama’s Suicide Speech for Israel: McCotter’s Statement re President Obama’s Middle East Speech: In response to President Obama’s address on the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. Representative Thaddeus G. McCotter (MI) has issued the following statement:
    In his latest lecture to the Middle East, an ideologically purblind President Obama has again failed to acknowledge the facts on the ground, much to the detriment of American and Israeli strategic interests.
    …Such strategic celerity, though, is lacking in the Obama Administration. For, as is becoming abundantly clear, its missteps and missed opportunities stem from the President’s inconstant commitment to the strategic partnership that founds America’s Middle Eastern policies for our national security and regional peace: the American-Israeli alliance.
    Israel is a market-based, liberal democracy that protects the lives and property of its people, including its minorities.
    Israel is America’s key strategic ally in the region. Israel enhances our defense capabilities; provides us a secure foothold in the strategically important and turbulent Middle East; and has supported our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by sharing its military technology and its intelligence on hostile forces.
    Israel is under a constant and increasing threat from terrorist forces, such as Hamas and Hezbollah; instability on its borders; and the hatred of hostile nations, notably Iran and Syria, that seek our ally’s demise.
    Already, due to the Obama administration’s bungling, radical political forces in Egypt are promising to press for the abrogation of the Camp David accords with Israel, both as a matter of law and a matter of fact.
    Inexcusably, the President’s opining and overtures have caused America’s and Israel’s shared strategic interests to decline in the Arab world – as has, not ironically, America’s popularity.
    Now must end the Obama Administration’s pressure upon our ally to make dangerous strategic concessions, which the President has done since entering office. Indeed, from day one the President has misunderstood and mangled the peace process, demanding concessions on Israeli settlements that the Palestinians had never made a precondition in negotiations. In return, all the President has reaped is the Palestinian National Authority pulling out of negotiations and endeavoring to have the United Nations foist a Palestinian state upon Israel without any direct negotiations. Moreover, the President’s “policies” have done nothing to stem the Palestinian national authority allying with the terrorists of Hamas, who are pledged to Israel’s destruction.
    Today’s speech repeats the injurious canards of forcing unilateral concessions on Israel; and claiming Hamas is becoming “moderate”. This is naïve at best, and, in reality, a foolish and dangerous misreading of a terrorist group that is America’s and Israel’s enemy. Instead, The President should have made clear that, if the Palestinian Authority chooses Hamas, it has turned its back on peace and forfeited American support, aid and assistance.
    Bluntly, a continued destabilization of Israel’s security is a strategic sellout of the highest order, and a breaking of our solemn promise to our ally.
    Mideast peace will not result from arbitrarily and unilaterally imposed solutions that will, in consequence, only further destabilize the region. Peace will come when the Palestinians and the Arab nations accept Israel as a Jewish state, abandon their dreams of eradicating it; stop demonizing Israel; cease teaching their children to hate it; and, conversely, tolerate and protect the minorities in their midst. When this happens, the Israelis will have a true partner in peace, one with whom they can mutually work for liberty, prosperity and security in that long troubled land.
    Thus, to do otherwise in our strategic partnership with Israel, however unwittingly, would reveal President Obama’s failure to acknowledge President Kennedy’s sage advice: “The surest path to war is the path of weakness and disunity.”
    No, in the interests of peace and American and Israeli security, the President must acknowledge the truths underpinning our alliance; recognize those facts on the ground endangering our alliance; and, so doing, commence strengthening the foundations of the American-Israeli alliance; and the very hopes for Middle East peace. – The Hill, 5-19-11
  • Republican Jewish Committee: JC Executive Director Matt Brooks: RJC Concerned about Obama’s Call for Israel to Return to 1967 borders: Today the President called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based “on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Those borders, actually the 1949 armistice lines, are physically indefensible, as numerous military experts have plainly stated. Asking Israel to return to those borders is unacceptable and places Israel in a vulnerable and dangerous position.
    President Bush, in his 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon memorializing the position of the United States, made it clear that, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. 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.”
    President Bush spoke often about Israel’s need for secure and defensible borders and recognized Israel’s legitimate claim to certain high-population Jewish areas, such as the immediate suburbs of Jerusalem, which are beyond the 1949 armistice line. In contrast, President Obama has consistently condemned even the building of housing in municipal Jerusalem itself. It is, in fact, President Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze as a pre-condition to negotiations, more than anything else, that doomed his administration’s peace-making efforts. That stand emboldened Palestinian extremists, damaged the PA’s ability to negotiate, and forced Israelis to question the sincerity of the administration’s friendship.
    With that immediate history in mind, we are concerned that when President Obama speaks of “the 1967 borders,” he means borders for Israel that are much less secure and defensible and that put Israel at risk. – RJCHQ, 5-19-11
  • B’nai B’rith International commends and critiques: B’nai B’rith International commends President Obama for clearly reiterating U.S. support for Israel. The president noted the relationship between the United States and Israel is rooted in shared history and values and he strongly asserted that the commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable, while he affirmed that Israel is a Jewish state.
    It was also encouraging that the president spoke against unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, a measure the Palestinians are planning to bring before the United Nations in September….
    B’nai B’rith is concerned that the president is prejudging the outcome of the peace process by publicly calling for pre-1967 borders as a basis for a Palestinian state, with land swaps. Discussion about this difficult issue should be reserved for direct negotiations between the parties.
    Though he noted the issue of Palestinian refugees, B’nai B’rith is disappointed that the president failed to mention the one million Jewish refugees created at the same time. The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is often overlooked. JTA, 5-19-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Politico Arena: Did Obama lay out cohesive Middle East policy?Politico, 5-19-11
  • President Obama Rewards Hamas: President Obama delivered an unprecedented rebuke of the Israeli people by an American president today. In words that were designed to reach more Muslim citizens than United States citizens, Obama called Israel’s legitimate West Bank settlements an “occupation”; and by calling for a return to the 1967 borders, he is calling for a divided Jerusalem. He continued to press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and, subsequently, with the “unity government” the PA has formed with the terrorist group, Hamas.
    It’s extremely troubling that President Obama would side with the Palestinian Authority in an effort to jump-start peace talks in the Middle East. President Obama is not the negotiator-in-chief for the Middle East and to make sweeping demands and characterizations not only hurts the peace process but also damages U.S.-Israeli relations.
    For decades, Israel has been our most important ally in the region. Sadly, with the President’s remarks, and decision to side with the Palestinian Authority, it appears he no longer believes that is the case. By endorsing the “unity government” he has rewarded Hamas – a terrorist organization that calls for the elimination of the Jews…. – Liberty Alerts, American Center for Law and Justice, 5-19-11
  • Obama speech greeted with skepticism, apathy in Mideast: President Obama’s vow that the United States will “stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights” in the Middle East was received with a mix of apathy and skepticism by people in the region who watched the speech Thursday night.
    Some said they saw little news or any discernible shift in policy from an administration that has struggled to formulate a coherent response to the wave of popular uprisings roiling the region this spring.
    “My hope was for an unqualified apology” for Obama’s perceived support of dictators, said Hossam Bahgat, a Cairo human rights activist who was among a handful of people who got up from his table to watch the speech at a popular downtown cafe. “And I thought only Obama could do that.”
    Baghat said he was expecting stronger words from a president who delivered a speech at Cairo University two years ago that left many in the Middle East feeling that the United States was backing away from its commitment to support democratic reform in the region.
    “The overwhelming sense was one of deja vu,” Bahgat said. “I kept waiting for Cairo II, but all I heard was Cairo I.”… – WaPo, 5-19-11
  • DANNY DANON: Making the Land of Israel Whole: OVER the past few months, analysts in Israel and abroad have warned that Israel will face what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed a “diplomatic tsunami.” In September, the Palestinian Authority plans to bring the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundary to the United Nations General Assembly for a vote. The Palestinians’ request will almost certainly be approved.
    While most voices in the Israeli and international news media are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to grant major concessions to the Palestinians to forestall such a move, he should in fact do the opposite: he should annex the Jewish communities of the West Bank, or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria.
    In 1995, as part of the Oslo accords, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” If the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salam Fayyad, decide to disregard this section of the accords by seeking United Nations recognition of statehood, it would mean that Israel, too, is no longer bound by its contents and is freed to take unilateral action.
    The first immediate implication would be that all of the diplomatic and security assistance that Israel provides to the Palestinians would be halted, and the transfer of tax revenues — upward of $1 billion per year — would end permanently. This alone could threaten the very existence of the Palestinian Authority.
    Second, a United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood would give Israel an opportunity to rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank (as we did the eastern half of Jerusalem). We could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction to the Jewish communities and uninhabited lands of the West Bank. This would put an end to a legal limbo that has existed for 44 years.
    In addition to its obvious ideological and symbolic significance, legalizing our hold on the West Bank would also increase the security of all Israelis by depriving terrorists of a base and creating a buffer against threats from the east. Moreover, we would be well within our rights to assert, as we did in Gaza after our disengagement in 2005, that we are no longer responsible for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who would continue to live in their own — unannexed — towns.
    These Palestinians would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population.
    While naysayers will no doubt warn us of the dire consequences and international condemnation that are sure to follow such a move by Israel, this would not be the first time that Israel has made such controversial decisions…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Deciphering Obama’s mideast speech: President Obama’s speech on the Middle East this morning is an attempt to put the Arab Spring into context– and also, in effect, to hit the “reset button” on U.S. policy in the region. Administration officials say they have tried to tackle each uprising in a deliberate fashion, with a response tailored to the situation in each particular country. But the administration in many ways has reaped the worst of all possible outcomes from its approach. Many reports from the region suggest that ordinary Arabs are disappointed in the U.S. response to the uprisings, and believe Obama was too slow to abandon autocrats such as Hosni Mubarak…. – WaPo, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East speech: Good but irrelevant: President Obama’s Middle East speech at the State Department today is likely to be positively received in Washington. Middle Easterners, however, will probably find it disappointing, or worse, irrelevant… – CS Monitor, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East Speech Has Many American Audiences: “They need to make the case for why all of this stuff matters to Americans and give some narrative that makes sense for all the different things we are doing,” said Marc Lynch, the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University.
    Mr. Obama’s decision to launch the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden has clearly helped to define for Americans a new Obama story in the region. Thursday’s speech will give the president the opportunity to put those actions in a broader context, Mr. Lynch said.
    “Pivoting into presidential campaign season, they are going to want to have in place a robust story to tell,” said Mr. Lynch, who writes the Middle East blog for Foreign Policy magazine. “The more that they can choose a few clear themes that fit together into a clear story, the better.” – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Arab-Israeli Options: The Arab uprisings that have swept the Middle East touched Israel directly for the first time, as an unprecedented wave of Palestinian protesters charged toward Israel’s borders from four directions on Sunday.
    With President Obama set to give a major speech on the Middle East on Thursday and with the departure of George Mitchell, the chief United States envoy to the Israelis and Palestinians, the White House is facing new challenges on both sides in dealing with the impasse in peace talks .
    In a speech on Monday, in advance of a trip to Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is willing to show more flexibility on territory, but his position is far from what any Palestinian leader will accept.
    Should the White House play a more active role in pushing both sides toward compromise? Or will more involvement simply raise expectations that cannot be met, as has occurred in the past? What should the White House strategy be?… – NYT, 5-17-11
    Yossi Klein Halevi: An Imposed Deal Will Fail
    Rime Allaf: Don’t Bother
    Aaron David Miller: Right Now, the U.S. Is Irrelevant
    Shibley Telhami: Only Washington Can Lead
    Michele Dunne: First, Obama Needs a Strategy
    Menachem Klein: We Need a Game Change
    Daniel Levy: From Illusions to Solutions
    Rashid Khalidi: An End to the Status Quo
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