Ever since the disastrous Arab Spring speech, President Obama’s spinners have strained to defend the administration, throwing out one excuse after another for a remarkable shift in U.S. policy. Despite progress in prior negotiations and the 2004 Bush-Sharon letters, the president made it U. S. policy for Israel to go back to square one and start negotiations at the 1949 Armistice lines and negotiate from there. The president had pulled the rug out from under our ally, forgoing any U.S. policy on any issue the Palestinians would have to compromise on. And to boot, Israel was told it must negotiate immediately, but of course it couldn’t be expected to negotiate with a government including Hamas.
So the Obama defense squad first argued it was all “no big deal.” But it was. Then it argued “Bush did it too.” But Bush did the opposite, affording the Jewish state explicit recognition in Bush-Sharon letters on settlements (to be decided in final status talks, natural growth “up but not out” would be allowed in the interim) and on borders that would account for changes on the ground. Then the Obama-spun liberals insisted, well, even if was a change and disadvantaged Israel, the Jews would stick by Obama. (What a crass admission, that Obama should be able to savage the Jewish state so long as his poll numbers don’t suffer.) Then they argued over a conference call to Jewish leaders last Friday, ignoring the administration’s own admissions that : 1) “1967 lines with land swaps” meant stripping Israel of past bargaining gains and 2) the administration wouldn’t rule out cajoling Israel to sit down with a Hamas-Fatah government in which both sides that had not embraced the Quartet principles.
Jewish leaders who were not under the spell of the Obama team following the Friday call were dismayed. As one participant in the call put it to me last night, it was a mystery what the administration was even trying to accomplish. Simply irritate already-nervous Jewish leaders? Word leaked out, as the administration knew it would, and the spin-offensive began all over again.
Pro-Israel Democrats privately are distressed. There are loyal Democrats who are pained to see “their side” behave in such a fashion, and frankly fatigued by perpetually smiling for the media while banging their heads on the desk behind closed doors.
Yesterday evening, the Jewish community’s most prominent pro-Israel group had had enough. In a rare release, AIPAC sent out a defense of the Israeli bargaining position. While the critique was ostensibly phrased in opposition to the Palestinians’ tactics, make no mistake: these were the U.S. positions that AIPAC was criticizing.
For example, the memo states : “ PA President Mahmoud Abbas is blocking the resumption of talks by setting onerous preconditions on issues that are supposed to be solved through negotiations. . . The Palestinians have now stepped up their preconditions by demanding that Israel publicly commit that a Palestinian state will be based on the pre-June 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.” But wait, that’s Obama’s precondition (“1967 borders with land swaps”). AIPAC states, “ According to prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements, all final status issues — including settlements, borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security — are to be determined through negotiations, not predetermined prior to talks.” That’s right, Mr. Obama.
The memo goes on with a sharp reminder to the administration that it has promised to uphold the Quartet conditions: “Under the April 27 accord between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas did not accept the Quartet’s (U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia) conditions of recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence and endorsing previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements in order to participate in the transitional government and election.” So why are we talking about Israel making concessions here?
AIPAC then recites the steps Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has taken: “Calling for a Palestinian state, reducing barriers to movement in the West Bank and implementing the 10-month moratorium on new West Bank housing construction. . . . Acknowledging that Israel is prepared to make painful decisions to make peace, Netanyahu said that while settlements remain a final-status issue to be addressed in talks, ‘in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.’” So why are the screws being put to Israel, Mr. President?
As the memo was released last night I happened to be covering a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the Orthodox Union’s annual conference. The reaction among a number of informed attendees was amazement and sadness. Had it come to this: that an indictment of the PA reads like an indictment of the administration because in many respects the positions of the two are identical?
Adam Kredo, writing in the Washington Jewish Week, caught on immediately:
Political operatives e-mail me to say what AIPAC won’t: It was President Obama’s policy speech that spurred the Palestinians to adopt Israel’s 1967 borders (with land swaps) as a precondition.
After posting, I received two separate e-mails — one from a Democratic operative and one from a Republican. Funny thing is, they both said the same thing: The Palestinians are taking their 1967 cues from President Barack Obama. It was Obama, after all, who ignited the 1967 border debate (with mutual land swaps, of course) during his Middle East policy speech.
Said a Democrat on the Hill: “Sounds like [AIPAC is] implicitly attacking Obama’s policy here.”
The Republican went further (nothing surprising there).
“Interesting that Obama sets the preconditions on settlements and the ‘67 lines and AIPAC attacks the PA for adopting them,” said the Republican operative. “You could have substituted the president’s name for Abbas’s in parts of the press release and it would have been just as accurate. So much for speaking truth to power.”
A knowledgable insider explained to me that while AIPAC memos are not uncommon, this one is distinguished by its timing (in the midst of domestic fisticuffs and international wrangling with the negotiating parties). And, he said, don’t be misled by the tone or absence of fiery rhetoric. “It is also the way the institution speaks, with the facts.”
Rest assured, in public, Democrats will be in spin mode. But AIPAC’s memo is a rare peek behind the curtain at the discontent if not anger simmering in the pro-Israel community. That AIPAC’s membership is overwhelmingly Democratic only reinforces the veiled warning to the administration: Even for Democrats there is just so much they can take.