The Daily Caller provides some interesting context to the Obama administration’s latest headaches on Israel. First, we learn that when Alan Solow contacted my colleague Greg Sargent, to spin him up on the administration’s Israel position, he was actually in a semi-official campaign position: “The Democrats’ push-back features [former congressman Robert] Wexler, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alan Solow, a Chicago lawyer and Obama’s earliest and most prominent supporter in the Jewish community. The White House has joined the effort by posting a new page at the White House’s site titled, “President Obama: Advancing Israel’s Security and Supporting Peace.” If only they spent half as much time developing a cogent policy as they do spinning the American Jewish community, Obama officials wouldn’t have both a foreign policy debacle and a domestic headache.
Second, it’s apparent that either through willful ignorance or just plain ignorance many liberals (not to mention bloggers and reporters) don’t understand what “1967 borders with land swaps” means. As I’ve explained over the last few days, this formulation is a recipe for undermining the Israeli bargaining position. Former deputy national security advisor Elliott Abrams explained to the Daily Caller, “1967 lines with agreed swaps means you’re saying to Israel that ‘You think you have the Western Wall [of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem] as part of Israel, but we don’t… [and] you need to come up with some swaps that that Palestinians believe acceptable to keep the Western Wall in Israel.’” This is what Wexler, Solow and Wasserman Schultz are defending.
A Captiol Hill Democrat is dismayed. “The perception that Obama’s position on the starting point for Middle East peace talks is the same Abass’s is not only hurtful to his support among pro-Israel Democrats, but has not moved us closer to peace,” he told me. Unlike Republicans who see President Obama’s behavior as bullying, this Democrat sees a pattern of weakness. “This president’s bargaining strategy -- from foreign policy to domestic policy, such as tax cuts and health care -- seems to be too often based on preemptive capitulation. Bargaining with yourself before you get to the table is not an effective strategy, regardless of if you’re negotiating with Republicans or Palestinians.”
Looking through a strictly foreign policy lens, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says Obama’s current stance on Israel is actually part of a trend evident since the beginning of his administration. Schanzer e-mailed me yesterday: “The U.S. position and the Palestinian position have not been far apart since Barack Obama became president. Consider the following: In September of last year, Obama stated that he wanted to see a Palestinian state by September 2011. Lo and behold, Abbas set that date as his target for his plans for a unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN. For two years, the Obama administration has applied consistent pressure on Israel to vacate lands the Palestinians wish to claim for their national project in the West Bank. He has not pressed the Palestinians for anything meaningful in return.” Schanzer continued: “In January, the Obama administration upgraded the PLO offices, granting them diplomatic status never before enjoyed by the Palestinians. He did this alongside scores of other states that did so in anticipation of Palestinian statehood.” And then we get to the present: “The 1967 formulation Obama articulated last month deals a blow to decades of understanding between U.S. presidents and Israeli leaders, and effectively resets the clock to June 1967, the moment the Palestinian nationalist movement was truly born.”
That formulation is precisely what the Palestinians presumably want. I say presumably because there is as yet no indication that the PA wants to disentangle itself from Hamas or give up the United Nations gambit.
Imagine if Obama instead had said to the PA, “You think you have the right of return but you don’t. You need to come up with some other inducement, other than dropping the right of return, for Israel to leave the West Bank.” It’s impossible to conceive, right? That would be a full adoption of Israel’s position as a condition of negotiations.
On Capitol Hill the perception is growing that the administration is speding more time selling its Israel policy than crafting an effective one. A disgusted Capitol Hill staffer tells me, “If top Democrats are truly concerned about losing Jewish voters they will urge the admnistration to reverse course from the anti-Israel animus that has been evident from the early days of this Presidency.” He is dismayed that the administration is going to such lengths to spin the public and the press: “The current propaganda effort is a little bit like Colonel Sanders telling chickens that he really is concerned about their well being.”
As to the conflict itself, there are two unity problems here. First, the unity government places Israel in the position of sitting down with a government that includes Hamas. Second, the position on the 1967 borders is now a unified position of the Obama administration and the PA. The problem you see is that in addition to lacking a peace partner (which has plagued Israel for decades), it now lacks an honest broker.