The Post reports:
The president pressed Israel, in unusually frank terms, to reach a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, citing the boundaries in place on the eve of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War as the starting point for negotiation about borders.
The formulation goes beyond principles outlined by President George W. Bush, who stated during his first term that “it is unrealistic to expect” Israel to pull back to the 1967 boundaries, which were based on cease-fire lines established in 1949. Obama said the negotiations about final borders, which he indicated may include land swaps to accommodate Israel’s large settlement blocs, should result in “a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.”
In short, with no heads up to the arriving prime minister (who replied with a sharp rejection of the 1967 borders), the president tossed aside Res. 242, Res. 338 and the myriad of agreements which followed, all of which make clear that the parties will determine borders as a final status issue. It’s shocking, really, that with a wave of the hand the president, all the while proclaiming his fidelity to Israel’s security, resets the rules of the game, with nothing required of the Palestinians.
Elliott Abrams gives the full context of Bush’s remarks:
President Obama also said the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” It is worth comparing how President Bush described the agreed, negotiated borders he sought for the Israelis and Palestinians in that 2004 letter: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population 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.” The Obama language is a shift away from Israel and toward the Palestinians.
Bush was saying what isn’t realistic for Israel to accept and stressing the necessity of direct negotiations; President Obama is telling Israel what the deal is. Bush was helping the Israelis; Obama is confronting Israel, as Abrams says, “with zero advance notice or warning or explanation, leaving them scrambling to figure out what it all meant.” Did Obama change the rules of the game in a way less favorable to Israel? Of course.
The Post’s Glenn Kessler has a must-read guide to previous presidents’ statements concerning the 1967 borders. He concludes:
In the context of this history, Obama’s statement Thursday represented a major shift. He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a “Palestinian goal” but as U.S. policy. He also dropped any reference to “realities on the ground” — code for Israeli settlements — that both Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton had used. He further suggested that Israel’s military would need to agree to leave the West Bank.
Obama did not go all the way and try to define what his statement meant for the disputed city of Jerusalem, or attempt to address the issue of Palestinians who want to return to lands now in the state of Israel. He said those issues would need to be addressed after borders and security are settled. But, for a U.S. president, the explicit reference to the 1967 lines represented crossing the Rubicon.
Robert Satloff, the Washington Institute’s executive director, notes that all this is especially egregious given the timing:
Perhaps more than anything else, the most surprising aspect of the president’s peace process statement was that it moved substantially toward the Palestinian position just days after the Palestinian Authority decided to seek unity and reconciliation with Hamas. Indeed, the president seemed nonplussed that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has opted for unity with Hamas, a group the United States views as a terrorist organization. This reconciliation with Hamas “raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel,” the president noted — but evidently not questions so profound and troubling to the United States that they would impede a shift in U.S. policy that advantages the Palestinians.
The meeting today between Bibi Netanyahu, who must certainly feel burned by this president, and Obama should be interesting. By now the White House, if it didn’t already, must realize that it poisoned the waters before a meeting with the Israeli prime minister and an appearance before AIPAC. What’s he going to do about it? Frankly, the problem is his. Netanyahu doesn’t have a negotiating partner, but he does have the opportunity before AIPAC and Congress to make his case and educate the public about the nature of the unity government to which Obama is handing off territory . But Obama has a firestorm he has to extinguish, and quickly. Good luck with that, Mr. President.
A final note: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has been dismissed and demeaned by the liberal media. But compare Obama’s statement to her clear enunciation of U.S. policy. Who’s the radical here?