While President Obama’s apologists have been busy trying to spin his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month as not a sign of his hostility to the Jewish state, the administration spent the past week attempting to hammer Israel into submission on the question of the 1967 lines. As Eli Lake reported in the Washington Times on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed the demand that was the highlight of Obama’s May 26 Middle East policy speech: that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations.
While the administration is trying to sell this pressure to Jewish supporters as being part of a master plan whose aim is to head off a vote in the United Nations on Palestinian statehood, it is a mistake to view it as anything other than a renewed attack on Netanyahu. Once again, the administration is misjudging both the Palestinians and the diplomatic situation.
What is most astonishing about this strategy is that it should have already been made clear to both Obama and Clinton that any time they call for a unilateral Israel concession in the hope that it will entice the Palestinians to return to peace talks, their move has the opposite effect. Obama’s calls for settlement freezes in the West Bank and Jerusalem only caused the Palestinians to adopt these Americans demands as preconditions for talks. The same is now true of the president’s ill-advised emphasis on the 1967 lines. Since the Palestinian Authority knows that it cannot sign a peace accord recognizing the legitimacy of Israel no matter where its borders may be drawn, they will seize upon any excuse not to talk and Obama has supplied them with just what they wanted.
Moreover the reported desperation of the Americans to avoid casting a veto in the United Nations of the Palestinian attempt to gain a state without recognizing Israel and ending the conflict is also misplaced. The Palestinians know their gambit has no chance and will die as soon as the Security Council takes it up. Appeasing them in this manner will not deter them from trying but it will damage Israel’s position. An Israeli concession on borders prior to talks even beginning will deprive them of their one bargaining chip. But since the president refused to demand that the Palestinians give up their call for a right of return for the descendants of refugees, they would still have it in their pocket in the unlikely event of negotiations re-starting.
The administration can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim that it is supportive of Israel while at the same time hammering it to give in on borders. The notion that Obama must pressure Israel for its own good is an argument that might fly with Israel-bashers or the leftists of J Street. But it is not one that ought to make any sense to mainstream Jewish groups as well as to the Congress that gave Netanyahu dozens of standing ovations last month.