The past week has seen a flurry of Israel-related activity in Washington DC — first there was President Obama’s speech at the State Department on Thursday and the subsequent “controversy” it generated; next was the Obama-Netanyahu face to face meeting; then there was the President’s speech at the AIPAC conference on Sunday, Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC the following night and finally Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. There were lots of speeches, lots of rhetoric, lots of applause, but unfortunately no indication that the moribund Israeli- Palestinian peace process will be brought back to life anytime soon.
During his speech at the State Department, President Obama re-affirmed his commitment of Israel’s security and for a two state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The President added that, “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.” Apparently, this amounted to heresy by some on the “pro-Israel” right who claimed that the 1967 borders are indefensible and that by insisting on their being the basis for negotiations, Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus.” This crisis was completely manufactured; anyone who thinks this is a new position hasn’t been paying attention for the past several years. Click here to read how this administration has outlined these principles to the Israeli government in the past.
If you would like to better understand the defensibility of the pre- Six Day War borders, please read this interesting piece.
Both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu were warmly welcomed to the annual AIPAC conference, where the President clarified the US position on borders that was so willfully misconstrued for political purposes. There was great anticipation following these speeches that when Netanyahu addressed Congress, that he would present some kind of formula to get Israel-Palestinian peace talks back on track. These hopes were not realized.
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress offered nothing new, and nothing substantive. It was a compilation/repetition of “Bibi’s greatest speeches.” The Prime Minister claimed that Israel is ready to make “painful compromises,” but outlined once again his red lines: no negotiations with the Palestinians as long as Hamas is in the picture, no return to the 1967 borders, an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem will remain undivided (as if it’s united today) and the Palestinians must recognize that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. Netanyahu’s speech played well to a largely “pro-Israel” Congress and will most certainly win him points with the right wing in Israel, but it will not bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to a peace deal that is so vital to Israel’s interests.
So we’re clear on what Israel’s positions are but what remains unclear is where in that formula is there room for promised “painful compromises?”
After hearing that speech, what faith could any potential Palestinian partner possibly have that Israel is ready to make a deal or that the US is willing to push Israel in that direction? The US and Israel want to thwart a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood and recognition at the UN in September, but why would the Palestinians think that they have any chance of achieving statehood through a negotiated settlement? It should not surprise anyone if the Palestinians, after watching this speech, decide that their best hope lies in continuing the path of unilateralism that they are on currently.
The Middle East is in the throes of dramatic change and no one can predict in what direction things will head. What is certain is that a “New Middle East” is emerging; maybe not the one that Shimon Peres envisioned nearly twenty years ago, but one that will pose new and previously unseen challenges for Israel. At this critical juncture Israel desperately needs bold and innovative leadership to reposition itself to continue to thrive in this new era; unfortunately nothing we have seen over these past few days in Washington have given any cause for optimism.
In the absence of any real hope for peace, I fear that the coming months will be marked by increasingly harsh rhetoric, more unilateral acts by both parties and a continuing Palestinian march toward a confrontation with Israel (and the US) at the United Nations. On the ground, tensions are bound to rise with the Palestinians increasingly adopting the tactics of the “Arab Spring” — using social media to mobilize large groups of protestors to engage in acts of civil disobedience against Israel and the Israelis coming under increased international pressure when they attempt to put down these protests. Yes, the US will continue to stand by Israel, but Israel’s position in the international arena will continue to erode. Time is not on our side.
Click here for the full text of President Obama’s speech on the Middle East.
Click here for the full text of President Obama’s speech at AIPAC.
Click here for the full text of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC.
Click here for the full text of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before the joint session of Congress.