Max Boot is right on all sides of his take on the Presiden’t speech. By throwing in the 1967 borders as the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, he effectively drowns out his fairly inspiring vision for democratic change in the Arab world. But probably the most glaring lapse in the speech wasn’t his call for specific borders; it was his failure to apply his own calls for democracy to the Palestinian regime.
What could have been more natural than to place his own conditions for Palestinian statehood, and to tie them directly to his democratic vision? Rather than just echoing Israel’s demands for security and recognition, why not say clearly: Any Palestinian state will have to truly respect the rights of its citizens, to stop oppressing gays and Christians, to extend the same basic human rights to all that America expects of the other Arab states? To affirm equality before the law, freedom of speech and religion, and all the other “core principles” he set forth for Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain?
The absence of such words, just moments after they were invoked for the other Arab states, raises very uncomfortable questions. Are Palestinians less worthy of such basic rights than other Arabs? Or is the prospect of ensuring them so dim that the President is willing to abandon his own principles and endorse any peace deal between Israel and the PA regime, regardless of where it leaves Palestinians themselves?
There’s a third possibility, of course. That is that the President doesn’t believe in the possibility of a peace agreement at all; that his words were chosen solely to minimize the blame to his administration when talks fail; that it was just another round of preelection posturing, as each side tries to navigate hopeless waters with least damage to their standing.
If so, he’s in for a bit of trouble over the next few days and weeks. In their tête-à-tête at the White House, Netanyahu showed just how much more experienced than in rhetoric and political jostling he is than Obama. The Israeli Prime MInister’s outpouring of gratitude for Obama’s efforts, coupled with downplaying their dispute, beautifully set up his stinging repudiation of Obama’s borders. (Netanyahu called them “indefensible,” leaving the historically-minded listener to recall the dovish Abba Eban’s description of the 1967 lines as “Auschwitz borders.”) That slap in the face was coupled with another: The night of Obama’s speech, Jerusalem approved 1,500 more housing units in post-’67 Jerusalem neighborhoods. Nor is this the first time Obama has been checkmated by Bibi. Over the last few years, Netanyahu has shown his mettle as a political tactician, playing politics in Obama’s backyard while Obama can’t generate anything other than resentment and stiffening of resolve among most Israelis.
This week, Bibi will show his muscle in a speech before a joint session of Congress, likely to a standing ovation akin to the one he received in 1996, and the game will be up: Obama will face the choice of either retreating fully or clashing frontally with Congress just at a time when he desperately needs Congressional support to get anything done about the economy or anything else.
Maybe I’m jumping the gun. But you don’t need to like Netanyahu or his politics to sense that Obama has tactically been trounced.