Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Question: May 19 or May 22? Answer: Yes

The Obama administration’s inability to articulate a consistent peace process policy was evident in yesterday’s State Department background briefing and press conference.

In the Background Briefing by an unidentified “Senior Administration Official” (SAO) — who was obviously David Hale, the Acting Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, since the SAO recounted how Dennis Ross and he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week — reporters were told the President made “a significant set of remarks” in May and “we are working with the parties . . . . toward negotiations on the basis of the President’s remarks.” Asked to elaborate, he said:

Well, we believe that the President’s remarks in May in their totality provide a very strong foundation for a return to talks, and that is the tenor of our conversation with the parties . . . . I don’t want to pick and choose different elements of what the President said. He carefully crafted this speech and I think made the tradeoffs he wished to make on them, and elaborating further on it is not going to be of any benefit. [Emphasis added].

The words “set of remarks” and remarks “in their totality” suggest a reference the President’s May 19 speech as amended by his May 22 AIPAC address. In the May 19 speech, the President adopted the Palestinian goal of the 1967 lines with minor modifications; but in the May 22 address, he said his words meant “changes that have taken place over the last 44 years” would be taken into account, “including the new demographic realities on the ground,” with a goal of “two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state . . . [and] Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people. . . . [with] mutual recognition.”

Under the May 22 formulation, the goal would not be the 1967 lines with minor modifications, but rather Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state whose borders would reflect the “new demographic realities.” But the SAO’s reference to “this speech” and its “carefully crafted” tradeoffs (with no benefit from “elaborating further”) apparently referred only to the May 19 speech.

So what is the administration pushing: the May 19 speech, or the May 19 speech as amended by the May 22 one? State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked that question later in the day:

QUESTION: You are familiar with what was said on the conference call with a senior official this morning about Envoy Hale and Dennis Ross’ meetings and trips?

MS. NULAND: I am.

QUESTION: There was a lot of focus in that call by the official on the President’s speech . . . .When this official and the Administration more broadly speaks about this, about the President’s speech, is it referring simply only to the speech that he delivered here at the State Department or does it also include the speech that he gave several days later to the AIPAC Conference which . . . went into a little bit more detail on some of the issues that the Israelis were most concerned about?

MS. NULAND: I understood that the official who spoke in the background call was referring to the May 19th speech. Obviously, whenever the President speaks on these issues the totality of his position is our position. . . .

The President said one thing on May 19 and another on May 22. Yesterday the SAO and the State Department spokesperson told reporters both things simultaneously.