Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The WSJ's Twisted Spin: Obama an "Anti-Israel President"

Bret Stephens' piece today is nothing if not over the top in its biased allegations and twisted spin in his assessment of Obama's recent pronouncements on the Arab Spring and the Israel-Palestine issue.  To wit:
it isn't often that this or any other U.S. president welcomes a foreign leader by sandbagging him with an adversarial policy speech a day before the visit.
Sandbagging?  Adversarial?  Stephens surely refers to Obama's reference to the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations, with appropriate swaps.  Nothing in that reference runs counter to decades of US policy concerning that issue.  Bibi and his people know that; or they have no excuse not to know it.  If Bibi felt sandbagged or picked on, that's on him, not on Barack.  In fact, one might just as easily make the case that Bibi was the more adversarial of the two with his day-after lecture, which tried to bully the US president in order to throw some rhetorical red meat to his Likudniks back home.
No U.S. president has explicitly endorsed the '67 lines as the basis for negotiating a final border, which is why the University of Michigan's Juan Cole, not exactly a shill for the Israel lobby, called it "a major turning point."
Explicitly or not, that has been US policy for many years (and that Juan Cole, for whose work I have great respect, called it a turning point mystifies me).  It explains why the US still refuses to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It also explains the protests a few months ago when the US vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have reinforced the illegal status of Israel's settlements in the West Bank - a policy that, again, the US adheres to officially.
on Thursday Mr. Obama called for Israel to make territorial concessions to some approximation of the '67 lines before an agreement is reached on the existential issues of refugees and Jerusalem. . . .   the essence of his proposal is that Israel should cede territory, put itself into a weaker position, and then hope for the best. This doesn't even amount to a land-for-peace formula.
That Obama made no statement of US positions on refugees and Jerusalem is lamentable, but so is Stephens' use of "concessions" for an act that would put Israel on the right side of both international law and history: to return the West Bank to Arab Palestinian control.
Mr. Obama was also cheered for his references to Israel as a "Jewish state." But why then obfuscate on the question of Palestinian refugees, whose political purpose over 63 years has been to destroy Israel as a Jewish state?
No, their underlying purpose lies in their right - likewise enshrined in international law - to return to the homes and homelands from which they were driven, illegally and unjustly, beginning in 1947.

Nothing like chumming the water for Bibi's speech to Congress.  But I suppose one can't expect much different from a Wall Street Journal columnist whose previous employment was as editor at the Jerusalem Post.

I'd rather embrace the assessments of a long-time CIA official who has probably forgotten more about the history of US public diplomacy on this issue than Bret Stephens will ever know.  Paul Pillar writes at The National Interest: 
The drop-the-veil moment during this past week was the importunate lobbying by Netanyahu's government before President Obama delivered his Middle East speech [4] on Thursday at the State Department (and doesn't that say something right there—where else would one see a foreign government get in the last lobbying licks on a president's speech, even at the expense of delaying the speech?) to omit any mention of the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiating land swaps and an eventual territorial settlement. The president mentioned that anyway, and in the joint appearance on Friday Netanyahu said nothing about land swaps, instead denouncing the 1967 borders as not being a suitable basis for anything.
(Netanyahu, by the way, reiterated that position to AIPAC.)
More from Pillar:
As Mr. Obama correctly noted in his address to AIPAC [5] on Sunday, there was nothing new in his mention of 1967-borders-with-swaps. It has long been recognized as the only formula that has any hope of being the basis for a successful negotiation. It has been the basis for several official proposals, including one by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. It also has been at the center of several unofficial proposals, including ones from people whose concern for Israel cannot be doubted (such as a plan offered by David Makovsky [6] of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy).

So for Netanyahu, not only is the land allotted to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan of the 1940s not enough, and not only is the larger territory that became the State of Israel with what we call the 1967 borders not enough. Even with land swaps that would extend Israel farther into the West Bank and include the large majority of the settlements Israel has constructed on land seized in the 1967 war, that would still not be enough for him. How much would be enough? One can speculate on what crumbs of land would be left to the Palestinians, but speculation is not required to have an idea based on Netanyahu's own statements of what such a “state” would entail: Israeli control of the airspace, no military of its own [7], and, as the prime minister mentioned on Friday, a “long-term” Israeli military presence along the Jordan River. It sounds like a bantustan that would make Bophuthatswana look like a paragon of sovereignty. But trying to envision the details of such an entity is pointless because it is a non-starter very likely intended to be rejected. . . .

Dishonesty in his professed desire for a peace settlement and a Palestinian state was only one part of the deception Netanyahu has displayed this past week. Another part concerned his reasons for coveting all that land. This part of the duplicity derives from the nature of U.S. interests involving Israel. The United States has an interest in assuring the security of Israel. In his AIPAC speech, President Obama properly referred to this aspect of U.S.-Israeli relations as “ironclad.” But the United States has no positive interest in either party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict acquiring title to land not because it is needed for security but instead for historical or religious reasons, or simply to acquire living space. The only U.S. interest is the negative one of being associated in the minds of much of the rest of the world with the Israeli occupation. So Netanyahu couched his denunciation of the 1967 boundary in security terms, saying (again ignoring what President Obama said about land swaps) that the boundary was “indefensible.”

Let's see—even if we ignore, as Netanyahu has, what would be needed for the Palestinians' security—how has that boundary figured into Israeli security in the past? In the one war that was fought across the boundary—the one in 1967—the Israeli Defense Forces conquered the entire West Bank in less than a week (while they also were taking the Golan Heights away from Syria and the Sinai away from Egypt). Since that war, the differential between Israel's military capability and that of its Arab neighbors has become if anything even greater (even just at the conventional level, without considering Israel's acquisition of nuclear weapons beginning in the 1970s). Who would threaten Israel across that 1967 border? A demilitarized Palestinian “state”? Some rusty post-Cold War army from some other Arab country that somehow made it into the West Bank? For many years the biggest threat to Israelis' security has come not across a border beyond which Israel lacked control but instead from angry Palestinians in land that Israel does control. The idea of the 1967 border as indefensible is—given military realities in the Middle East—itself indefensible. And the notion that an Israeli-Palestinian boundary based on land swaps on either side of that border, and as part of a larger peace agreement, would threaten Israeli security is ludicrous.

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