Boy, did President Obama screw up! He gave two-thirds of a great address on Thursday, abandoning his pinched, Realpolitik orientation and promising to put the United States on the side of democrats in the Middle East. It was a ringing call that should have received wide attention, but didn’t. Why not? Because of the final third of his speech, which contained the now-infamous call for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace to be “based on the 1967 lines.”
The president went on to add a caveat to this statement, adding that there would be “mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” He also tossed some other rhetorical concessions Israel’s way, for example decrying “antagonism toward Israel,” warning that “efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure,” and telling “Palestinian leaders” that they “will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.” He even eschewed his previous call for an Israeli settlement freeze.
None of it mattered. All of the headlines were about Obama becoming the first U.S. president to declare that the 1967 borders—meaning the 1949 cease-fire lines—should be the basis of any peace treaty.
This is a gratuitous insult to our closest ally in the region and an unearned gift to the Palestinians at a time when they are eschewing talks with Israel. It is all the more puzzling because the entire focus of the region has been on the Arab Spring—not on Israel and Palestine. The only people who want to put the focus back on Israel are dictators like Bashar al-Assad who want to deflect popular anger among their own people. Why is Obama playing their game at the same time that he rightly denounces human-rights abuses by Assad, Qaddafi, and their ilk?
And why is he insisting on putting the focus back on the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” at a time when prospects for a settlement have never been bleaker because of Fatah’s willingness to form a unity government with the genocidal terrorists of Hamas? Obama even agrees with Prime Minister Netanyahu, at least in public, that Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas until that group renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist—conditions that are likely to be met around the time that cows start jumping over the moon. So, why, then did Obama upend his own pro-democracy speech with a totally unnecessary and counterproductive foray back into the thickets of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking?
I don’t know, but can only conclude that this is a mania that he came into office with, and no amount of hard experience can disabuse him of it.
I commented a few days ago on Obama’s ability to learn from his early blunders on many issues. The fact that he is now taking a harder line with Iran and Syria, while embracing the pro-democracy forces in the region, is evidence of his maturation in office. But when it comes to Israel, Obama just can’t seem to escape his ideological straightjacket. He still seems to believe that an Israeli-Palestinian accord is not only of overarching importance but also something that can be accomplished during his term of office. Many presidents going back to the days of Richard Nixon have fallen prey to the same illusion. In Bill Clinton’s case he was still trying to squeeze out a deal even as his last minutes in office ran out.
I had figured that Obama was smarter than that—that he might have learned from experience. Apparently not.