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Sullivan, Goldberg, and Zakaria Walk into a Bar . . .

On November 11, 2010, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton issued a Joint Statement, following a “friendly and productive exchange of views.” Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Goldberg, Fareed Zakaria, and Joe Klein have asserted that the November statement is a smoking gun, proving Netanyahu manufactured a confrontation with President Obama over his May 19 Middle East speech

At Time magazine, Klein wrote that Obama’s speech had employed the “exact formulation” from the November statement. Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post that the November statement shows “Netanyahu’s quarrel, it appears, is with himself.” In his Atlantic blog, Goldberg wrote it “fairly definitively proves that the whole contretemps over Obama’s radical new analysis of the Middle East crisis was ridiculous.” And Sullivan overtopped his Atlantic colleague, writing the statement confirms that Netanyahu is a “liar.”

The key portion of the November statement consisted of two sentences: (1) a U.S. description of the competing Palestinian and Israeli goals, and (2) a commitment about Israeli security requirements in any future agreement:

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.” Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement. [Emphasis added]

Compare the above statement with Obama’s May 19 statement:

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.

Obama’s May 19 statement did three things.  First, it made the “Palestinian goal”—quoting the November statement verbatim—the position of the United States. It endorsed a state “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” and asserted this formulation would establish “secure and recognized borders” for both Israel and the Palestinian state. 

What the Palestinians mean by “the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps” is actually the 1967 lines, with insignificant changes. Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s Washington envoy, asked on May 22 if it meant Israel might retain “some of those large settlements,” responded

Our position is very clear on borders. We said 1967 lines with minor modifications. We absolutely are not envisioning the land swap that the Israelis have been proposing—the five, six percent. We are talking about as little, as minor as possible of a land swap to accommodate certain interests and changes. But we are not envisioning a large land swap.

Thus the Palestinian “goal” set forth in the November statement, which Obama elevated into a U.S. position, is the 1967 lines with swaps representing “minor modifications.” It is, for practical purposes, simply the 1967 lines. 

Second, Obama adopted the Palestinian goal without a requirement that the Palestinians (i) recognize a “Jewish state”; (ii) accept borders that “reflect subsequent developments” (code words for major settlement blocs); (iii) agree to borders that “meet Israeli security requirements” (code words for defensible borders); (iv) concur that Israel security requirements be “fully taken into account” in any agreement; and (v) sign an agreement that “ends the conflict.” All those conditions, set forth in the November statement as the Israeli “goal,” are critical to Israel. Obama insisted on none of them. 

Third, the manner in which Obama endorsed the Palestinian goal—not consulting Netanyahu, giving him only a few hours notice, ignoring his objections, announcing the new position without waiting to meet with him the next day—was obviously intended to send a signal not simply to Israel, but to the European leaders he was scheduled to meet the following week, who would appreciate an American president endorsing the Palestinian position while overriding Israeli objections. 

These guys want us to believe Obama was just repeating the November statement and Netanyahu manufactured a crisis. It’s a joke, right?