President Obama, like every student of the Middle East, understands that the shifting sands of demography in that volatile region are working against the two-state solution needed to end generations of bloodshed. The fragile stasis that exists today cannot hold.
Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state is at stake because of many factors, including uncertainty brought by the Arab Spring, growth in the Palestinian population, unilateral efforts to create a recognized state of Palestine and technological advances in weaponry.
That is why, from his first days in office, the president has invested so much in encouraging meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His goal has been one shared by a succession of Israeli and American leaders: two nations, the Jewish state of Israel and Palestine for the Palestinian people, living side by side, in peace and security.
As I listened to the president’s speech on the Middle East, I heard him reaffirm his strong commitment to Israel’s safety, security and prosperity. He said the U.S. relationship with Israel is unshakable. He said that the conflict cannot be resolved through unilateral actions or a U.N. vote establishing a Palestinian state but only through negotiations between the parties.
The president said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that embraces Hamas, a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, and he reaffirmed his commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge. He said that an independent Palestine must be a non-militarized state and that Israel’s security should be demonstrated before phased Israeli withdrawals are completed. No peace can take place, he said, that does not provide Israel with the ability to defend itself.
One sentence that he uttered received the most attention: “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.”
There, the president stated a concept that has been the basis of every serious attempt at resolution since the negotiations President Bill Clinton held at Camp David in 2000. He reminded us that every president and many Israeli elected leaders have recognized that the borders are one starting point for negotiations, not the end point.
That statement does not mean a return to 1967 borders. No workable solution envisions that. Land swaps offer the flexibility necessary to ensure secure and defensible borders and address the issue of settlements.