Since Obama’s speech on the Middle East, Republicans and some Democrats have been alleging that the president “threw Israel under the bus” when he called for the borders of Israel and Palestine to be “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” And in a speech to AIPAC, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu again railed at the proposal, which will produce another round of criticism.
But yesterday Andrew Sullivan posted a joint statement from last November from Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that should kill this meme once and for all:
The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that “the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”
Netanyahu and Clinton discussed precisely the same proposal that Obama laid out in his speech — and there was no outcry of any kind.
This reveals all the faux-outrage for what it is: Pure political opportunism. For Republicans, deliberately misinterpreting the president’s statements on Israel — by claiming he wants a “return” to pre-1967 borders — allowed them to attack the president on national security grounds for the first time since Osama bin Laden was killed. For Netanyahu, expressing outrage over Obama’s supposed betrayal gave him cover to pursue his preferred policy of prolonging the stalemate in the peace process for as long as possible.
Arguably, the most important statement Obama made regarding the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict was that “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” The main dispute over Israel is not really about whether Israel should exist — but over whether the real threat to its continued existence is the potential of conventional military assault by hostile neighbors or the inevitable demographic changes over time that will eventually make it impossible for Israel to retain its Jewish or democratic character. Many conservatives are opposed to the existence of a Palestinian state period — but it’s politically unacceptable for them to say that, so their preferred approach is to simply make reaching a solution impossible. That’s why they are helping Netanyahu portray Obama as someone who is fundamentally hostile to Israel’s existence, no matter how absurd that might be.
Changing the debate to one about whether or not Obama is sufficiently pro-Israel also allows Republicans to fight on the battlefield on which they feel most comfortable — nationalist litmus tests. Whether we’re talking about flag pins, the New Black Panther Party, American Exceptionalism, or the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, Republicans prefer conflicts that are fundamentally defined by the president’s failure to express sufficient cultural or patriotic loyalty. The actual policy questions are replaced by fights at which Obama is at a fundamental disadvantage, having to prove a negative: That he does not hate white people, Jews, or the country he’s chosen to serve.
It’s politically obvious why conservatives are doing this. But by replacing the conversation over a viable two-state solution with one about the president’s fealty to Israel, they are paradoxically exacerbating Israel’s existential peril. To paraphrase former Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, absent a two state solution, in all likelihood we will have a one-state solution — and that one state won’t be Israel, at the very least, not as we know it today.