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Right Turn
Posted at 06:45 PM ET, 06/15/2011

The White House in spin mode

Ever since Eli Lake reported on Friday about the administration’s conference call with Jewish leaders and I reported on the statements of State Department and National Security Council officials regarding U.S. policy toward Israel, the White House has been engaged in a furious spin offensive. They went to JTA, a Jewish news service, which didn’t buy their spin that the administration stance on the “1967 borders with land swaps” had precedent in a 1969 proposal. Then the adjunct to the DNC, the National Jewish Democratic Council, launched a broadside but curiously didn’t take issue with the facts in my report, namely that the United States now wants Israel to go back to square one in the negotiations and negotiate up from the 1967 borders (rather than confirm borders previously discussed) and that the administration is talking about Israeli concessions even though Hamas hasn’t yet embraced the Quartet principles and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is still part of the unity government.

Next stop was at Plum Line, to which the administration apparently dispensed two friendly voices to say everything was fine, perfectly fine. (It was appropriate I guess to go to a top blog on politics, rather than a foreign policy reporter, since now this is all about domestic damage-control for the administration.)

But once again the facts in Lake’s and my report are never rebutted. Actually, the Plum Line post confirms that the administration played the same game on the conference call as the White House did with me, namely refusing to explain how Israel was expected “to come to the table absent a recognition by Hamas of the Quartet Principles” by referring back to Obama’s AIPAC speech. But as those who have been following the course of events know, the speech was a muddle, telling Israel it needs to negotiate immediately but saying it shouldn’t sit down with Hamas. Greg Sargent of Plum Line quotes Democratic operative Stuart Eizenstat regurgitating the administration’s storyline that the call was all about “reassurance.” (So?) This is the same administration that expected no blowback from the Arab Spring speech.

Most telling, however, are the remarks of Democrat Alan Solow. Greg quotes him as saying, “The questions following the initial presentation did not consist of any pushback, which certainly would have occurred had the tone been as described.” But of course the initial report by Lake and my subsequent reports didn’t mention the tone, only the policy the administration advanced, which Solow can’t in good faith rebut, since it comes directly from the State Department and NSC. Greg quotes Solow as saying, “There was no indication of any kind that the U.S. was departing from the Quartet principles. . . . The Quartet principles were reaffirmed.” But they didn’t address the underlying contradiction (which Solow apparently didn’t catch): How can Israel negotiate as the administration insists without sitting down with the unity government that contains Hamas?

A participant in the call provides me with this excerpt, which suggests the participants weren’t listening very carefully. Steve Simon, the new White House national security official for Israel, explained his take on the 1967 border, “What it means is basically is that borders existed on June 4, 1967, have got to change to take into account realities of the last 44 years, the needs of both sides and demographic realities. It is up to the parties to figure out how the lines are going to change.” In other words: Go back to 1967 and start from there. Did Solow and Eizenstat not realize the administration was undermining Israel’s bargaining position?

The problem of course isn’t a call (although the denseness of American Jewish leaders is always disturbing); it’s what the administration is doing. Today Obama officials are in the region urging Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to mouth the Obama formula. But there is no sign Hamas has embraced the Quartet principles. Israel is supposed to sit down with the Hamas-Fatah unity government?

As a final note, Greg’s report inadvertently passes on a factual error from the spin squad:

But the reports are not right, according to two people who were on the call: Alan Solow, the former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Stuart Eizenstadt, a former Clinton administration official who has worked extensively on Mideast issues.
They both tell me that there was no discussion whatsoever of pressuring Israel to come to the table absent a recognition by Hamas of the Quartet Principles — which demand recognition of Israel, renouncing terrorism, and abiding by past agreements.

I never reported on any “pressuring” during the call. To the contrary, I reported only on the underlying policy of the administration, which evidently is quite disturbing to some.

On one level, this is pathetic. Five days after Lake’s Washington Times piece, the White House is out spinning about a meaningless call. The issue isn’t what the administration is saying to spin liberal American Jews (though its crassness is bracing); it is the underlying policy that can’t be hidden.

The irony is that it is inconceivable that there would be a real “peace process” now. Obama has set that back a decade or more, first by insisting on the settlement freeze, then by introducing the 1967 language. What he is really doing is tying the hands of future presidents and prime ministers who will no doubt spend years unraveling this mess.

As Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech last night and AIPAC’s memo revealed, the core issue is that it is hard to distinguish the administration’s stance from that of the Palestinians. You sure couldn’t say that about any administration to date.

By  |  06:45 PM ET, 06/15/2011

 
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