Jennifer Rubin summarizes the White House’s continuing efforts to spin President Obama’s “1967 lines with agreed swaps” formulation as “nothing new.” In one sense, the argument the president said nothing new in his May 19 speech is a joke. In another, however, it is indeed not new — but not in a sense that reflects well on the president.
Obama’s formulation is similar to the 1969 Rogers Plan, proposed by President Nixon’s secretary of state, who wanted changes to the 1967 lines “confined to insubstantial alterations required for mutual security” agreed upon by the parties. On May 19, Obama said borders should be “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” The Palestinians have made it clear, on numerous occasions, they will not agree to anything other than insubstantial alterations.
But the Rogers Plan never became U.S. policy: it was killed by President Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger — neither of whom ever endorsed it.
Yehuda Avner’s invaluable recent book, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, provides some essential background about the Rogers Plan. Rogers had announced his plan without consulting Israel. He envisioned an Israeli withdrawal and what he described as a “state of peace” to be “guaranteed” by the U.S., Russia, Britain and France. Prime Minister Golda Meir thought it was preposterous. Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin prepared material to be distributed to various reporters, politicians and opinion makers, reflecting Israel’s talking papers with senior administration officials. The material asserted:
U.S. policy as it is now unfolding comes close to the advocacy and development of an imposed settlement. . . . [T]he U.S. proposals do more than undermine the principle of negotiation; they preempt its very prospect. If the United States has already determined what the “secure and recognized boundaries” are there is no point in Israel taking part in any negotiations with anybody at all. Why should the Arabs consent to give Israel more than what America is recommending publicly?
Rabin soon reported that Rogers was in retreat and a columnist had quoted Kissinger telling Nixon that “Rogers is like a gambler on a losing streak. He wants to increase his stakes all the time. The whole thing is doomed to futility.”
Rogers was simply the secretary of state on an ill-considered State Department venture; he did not have the benefit of prior experience trying to force Israel back to indefensible lines, nor the lessons of complete withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza. Barack Obama lacks any such excuse for his multiple efforts to have Israel accede to Palestinian demands before negotiations even begin. But he keeps at it, like a gambler on a losing streak.