May 20, 2011 Prime Minister Netanyahu President Obama Meet in Shadow of Obama's Speech
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama met this afternoon in Washington. The meeting took place in the shadow of yesterdays speech by President Obama on the future of the Middle East. The Israeli government was taken by surprise by the Obama's statement that peace needs to be based on the 67 boundries. Going into the meeting the Israeli press were talking about the coming confrontation, but the meeting last an hour longer then scheduled and based on the statements at the end of the meeting it was a productive agreement despite the differences. It's not in either Netanyahu's or Obama's interest to deepen the confrontation.
President Obama gave his much anticipated speech on the Middle East yesterday.
Those on the right side of the political spectrum, both in Israel and the United States, have widely criticized the part of the speech that related to settling the Israeli-Arab conflict. In fact, the speech was strongly supportive of Israel, although it was, in my mind, misguided.
The part of the speech that received the most notice was Obama's statement that: "We believe 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". That is a small, but expected, change in American policy. The issue of the amount of territory that Israel was to return has been much debated and negotiated. However, most observors have always believed this would unfortunately be the end point of negotiations. Should the President of the United States have stated the end point at this point, probably not. However, I think this is part of Obama's strategy of trying to stop the Palestinian's attempt to unilaterally declare Independence this fall. Obama stated "For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist."
What President Obama has done, in fact, is accept two of Palestinian President Abbas' position on two key issue. First, the issue of the '67 borders being the basis of talks. Second, and to my mind most problematic, he is pushing for reaching an agreement on borders and security first, leaving the issues of refugees and Jerusalem for later. It seems this is an attempt to agree to Abbas 'key issues, in return for his not pushing forward toward unilateral declaration.
Many support Obama's position, including those in Israel. I heard on this morning's Israel News that Shaul Mofaz, one of the leaders of the Kadima Party (not one of my favorite Kadiama people) supports Obama's speech. Mofaz has proposed a similar plan over the last year.
I inherently disagree with President Obama's position. The idea of settling what is easy first and leaving the hard part for later is very problematic. Let me say at the outset, I believe that any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be based on the 67 borders. Furthermore, I see no logic in continued settlement building outside of the current settlement blocs. However, I do not believe in partial settlements. To me, agreeing to borders and implementing them without settling the most basic issues of Refugees and Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State. My objections are two fold: First to agree to and withdraw from key territories without ending the conflict seems very problematic, as an understatement.
Let's revisit Oslo. Israel agreed to allow the establishment of the Palestinian authority, allowing Arafat to come back into "Palestine" and began the process of negotiations. This was in return for one key point, negotiations instead of violence. Instead, Israelis received the Second Intifada with all of the additional bombings. How are Israelis expected to believe giving up territory is sensible, even though the most fundamental aspects of the Arab Israeli conflict have not been resolved. The second problem is that any agreement to remove Jewish settlements from the West Bank will bring Israel to the brink of Civil War. For peace that is a fight worth fighting. However, for an interim agreement-It’s a fight that simply can not be fought.
We are now up to step two. Next week Prime Minister Netanyahu gives two important speeches, one in Congress and one at AIPAC. For Israel's sake he needs to take the initiative.
Here is the speech I would give if I were him:
I was brought up believing that Israel has the right to all of the Land of Israel. I fought my entire political life for Israel's right to remain in what we call "Yehuda and Shomron". However I have also learned and understood that you do not receive all that you wish or have a right to in life. I stand before you today stating that I am willing to give up my dream of an undivided Land of Israel and agree to future borders of the State of Israel based on the border of 1967 borders, with appropriate land swaps. That being said, I can only give up on my dreams, if the Palestinians give up theirs. Those holding keys to homes in Jaffa for 60+ years must give up their dreams as I give up mine. Those dreaming that the Jewish state of Israel will disappear must give up those dreams permanently. If the Palestinians will agree to end the conflict, including the dream of refugees to return to the State of Israel I will give up my dreams for an undivided land of Israel. Neither of these dreams can happen, and the sooner we both accept that, the sooner we can learn to live in permanent peace. We have been trying to achieve peace for a generation, the time for partial settlements is over. It is now time to reach a permanent agreement based on the terms I have laid out.
I could have continued examining Obama speech. There are many other important aspects in it-- including his clear statement that "a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people," but you can read the rest of the speech here