Sunday, May 22, 2011

Much Ado About Something; What Obama Got Right (& Wrong); Where it Matters, and Where Not

Several different takes on the implications of what Obama said--and didn't say--in his Middle East Speech this past Thursday. I'm of two minds: on one level, Obama conceded much to the Israeli position:
No to negotiating with a Palestinian polity that includes the unrepentant terrorist group Hamas;
A non-militarized Palestinian State;
Israel as a Jewish State and homeland of the Jewish people

Yes, Bibi could have been more diplomatic and statesmanlike in his rebuke of the President--which he clearly was when he met with the President in person, here (and below)
And yes, Abe Foxman thinks that Obama gave a pro-Israel speech on Thursday, and Jeffrey Goldberg makes a point (or two) in his Please Don't Speak to My President like That

I'm less concerned about the President's faux pas on the '67 lines (truth be told, he could have echoed President Bush's assurances that realities on the ground make the "Armistice Lines of 1949" no longer workable in his letter to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14th, 2004).
But the greater omission was the President's failure to reiterate that the Palestinian 'Right of Return' to Israel proper is a non-starter. As Sari Nusseibeh famously said in 2002; there can't be a two state solution with one state being for the Palestinians and the other also being for the Palestinians.
The Palestinian refugee issue cannot be left for future negotiations. It must be clear from the outset of any new talks--and agreements--that there can be no more than a small, symbolic return of Palestinians into Israel, and only in the context of acceptance and recognition of the 800,000 plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands that also resulted from the 1948 War.
A fuller accounting below from David Horovitz and Ari Shavit
david in Seattle

Bibi's more nuanced critique of the President, to the President

Obama’s failure to internalize Palestinian intolerance

The president’s new parameters show him blind to the significance of the demand for a "right of return."

Last Sunday, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Palestinian Arabs who had left Israel while the Arab world tried to murder our state at birth, attempted a symbolic “return,” with varying degrees of success, across the Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian borders, and from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

They were warmly praised in this effort by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the ostensibly moderate successor to Yasser Arafat with whom Israel has been trying for almost eight years to make peace. Abbas -- who later in the week, in a New York Times op-ed, rewrote the history of Israel’s reestablishment to air-brush out the Arabs’ rejection of what would have been their independent state alongside ours -- movingly praised those who had died in Sunday’s “Nakba Day” assault on Israel’s borders (most of them killed by Lebanese Army forces) as the latest “martyrs” to the Palestinian cause.

Sunday’s Nakba onslaught against sovereign Israel, and its moving endorsement by Israel’s putative Palestinian partner, was the latest bleak demonstration of the Palestinians’ insistent refusal, for close to two-thirds of a century, to internalize the fact that the Jews have a historic claim to this sliver of land, and that their demands for statehood cannot be realized at the cost of ours.

Amid all the “differences” that Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged in their visions for the way forward to Israeli-Palestinian peace, it is the president’s evident incapacity to appreciate the uncompromising Palestinian refusal to countenance Israel’s legitimacy that is most damaging the vital American-Israeli relationship and most dooming his approach to peacemaking.

An indication of his failure to internalize that Israel, in any borders, is regarded as fundamentally illegitimate by much of the Palestinian leadership and public was evident in Obama’s 2009 Muslim world outreach speech in Cairo. He failed, before that most vital of audiences, to mention Israel’s historic tie to this land – the fact that this is the only place where the Jews have ever been sovereign, the only place where the Jews have ever sought sovereignty, a place we never willingly left and one to which we always prayed to return.

It is immensely troubling for many Israelis to recognize that our most important strategic partner is now publicly advocating, before any significant sign of Palestinian compromise on final status issues has been detected, that we withdraw, more or less, to the pre-1967 lines – the so-called “Auschwitz borders” -- from which we were relentlessly attacked in our first two fragile decades of statehood. But only a president who ignores or underestimates Palestinian hostility to Israel could propose a formula for reviving negotiations in which he set out those parameters for high-risk territorial compromise without simultaneously making crystal clear that there will be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

Obama is urging Israel – several of whose leaders have offered dramatic territorial concessions in the cause of peace, and proven their honest intentions by leaving southern Lebanon, Gaza and major West Bank cities, only to be rewarded with new bouts of violence – to give up its key disputed asset, the biblically resonant territory of Judea and Samaria, as stage one of a “peace” process. But he is not demanding that the Palestinians – whose leaders have consistently failed to embrace far-reaching peace offers, most notably Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a withdrawal to adjusted ’67 lines and the dividing of Jerusalem – give up their key disputed asset, the unconscionable demand for a Jewish-state-destroying “right of return” for millions, until some vague subsequent stage, if at all. He merely suggests that the refugee issue, along with Jerusalem, be addressed later on.

Yet the president’s new formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace is so unworkable and so counter-productive as to indicate a complete breakdown in such communication. No international player, and certainly no Palestinian negotiator, is now going to defy the Obama framework and declare that the Israelis cannot possibly be required to sanction a dangerous pullback toward the ’67 lines unless or until the Palestinians formally relinquish the demand for a “right of return.” And so we can look ahead to another period of diplomatic deadlock, of an Israel appearing recalcitrant in not meeting the publicly stated expectations of its key ally, of the Palestinians garnering ever-greater international legitimacy even as they are freed of the requirement to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel by withdrawing their demand to destroy it by weight of refugee numbers.

Most gallingly, as on Thursday and now again at this most obvious of opportunities, he chose not to state clearly and firmly – as there can be no doubt predecessors like George W Bush and Bill Clinton would have done in such a context – that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be solved independently of Israel. He did not make clear that just as Israel built a vibrant state absorbing the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa six decades ago, a new “Palestine” would finally have to resolve its assiduously perpetuated refugee crisis and abandon the dream of a “return.” The repeated omission will have delighted all of Israel’s uncompromising enemies. The dream lives on.

Netanyahu, of course, filled the breach. Netanyahu spoke about the impossibility of a “right of return.” “It’s not going to happen,” he said, as the president sat impassive alongside him. “Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.”

But Obama did no such thing. For the second day in succession the president, in the same week as the Nakba assault on Israel’s borders, when it came to this central demand by the Palestinians that simply cannot be accepted because it would spell the demographic demise of our state, was dismayingly, insistently, resonantly silent.

Obama's speech was bad for Middle East peace
Instead of presenting the 1967 borders as the end of the process, Obama made them its start. Instead of tying them to the end of demands and the end of the conflict, they were tied to greater demands and continued conflict.
By Ari Shavit

On a fundamental level, Obama's speech was good for Israel. He blocked the Palestinian initiative to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state. He condemned the Palestinian effort to delegitimize Israel. He came out against Hamas. He did not demand a total and immediate freeze on settlement construction. He did not embrace the Arab peace initiative. He showed that he has internalized Israel's security problems and defense concerns. Above all, he adopted the two main principles of Israel's peace doctrine: Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as a demilitarized state.

But in one important respect, Obama's speech was very bad for Israel. And very bad for the United States. And very bad for peace. The U.S. president made an egregious error in the way he introduced the principle of 1967 into his vision of peace. Instead of presenting the 1967 borders as the end of the process, Obama made them its start. Instead of tying them to the end of demands and the end of the conflict, they were tied to greater demands and continued conflict.

Without intending any harm, Obama presented Israel with a suicidal proposition: an interim agreement based on the 1967 borders. It's a proposal that runs along the same lines as the Hamas offer of a hudna - a long-term cease-fire. It's a proposal that will result in certain conflict in Jerusalem and in the inundation of Israel with refugees. It's a proposition that spells an end to peace, an end to stability and an end to the State of Israel.

The good news is that it is not too late. The mistake can be easily corrected, the day can be saved. Obama and Netanyahu need not confront each other before the cameras, as they did on Friday. They must show maturity and wisdom and face the crisis as if it were an opportunity. They must find a way of restoring the principle of 1967 to its correct place and enable Netanyahu to accept it. If they do this, the light in Obama's speech will once again shine brightly. And it will provide Israelis, Palestinians and Americans with a genuine ray of hope.

1 comment:

George Jochnowitz said...

Obama and Netanyahu are not the only actors in this dispute. There is also Abbas. Here is an unpublished letter I sent to the New York Times in response to an Op-Ed by Abbas:

Re “The Long Overdue Palestinian State,” Op-Ed, May 17):

Thank you, New York Times, for allowing your readers to see the dishonesty of Mahmoud Abbas first hand. Abbas writes “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.” It was the Arabs who rejected a two-state solution and who responded to the UN resolution by invading the mandate of Palestine the day the British left. Some Arabs fled; some were expelled; some remained and are now Israeli citizens.

Abbas writes of returning to the 1967 borders. Those borders would still be there had Egypt not closed the Straits of Tiran in 1967 and if Jordan had not entered the war after it had begun. Later in 1967, the Arab states met in Sudan and issued the Three No’s of Khartoum: No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with Israel.

This is the same Mahmoud Abbas whose doctoral dissertation, “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” refers to “the myth” of six million murdered Jews as “a fantastic lie.”