Several Contentions contributors commented yesterday on President Barack Obama’s call for a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines,” which they correctly identified as both radical departing from previous U.S. policy and severely undermining Israel’s negotiating position. But that was far from the worst element of Obama’s speech. Much worse was his endorsement of what Noah Pollak aptly identified this week as “moderate” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s real goal: not a Palestinian state at peace with Israel, but a Palestinian state at war with Israel.
The key passage comes just after Obama called for a “full and phased” Israeli withdrawal on a fixed timetable (“the duration of this transition period must be agreed”) in exchange for “robust” security provisions:
I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
In other words, Israel should withdraw fully to the 1967 lines and not get peace in exchange, because the two thorniest issues, Jerusalem and the refugees, will remain to be resolved.
Moreover, having done so, Israel will be left with no bargaining chips with which to obtain Palestinian concessions on these issues. Having already ceded the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, what is it supposed to offer them in exchange for ceding their demand that all 4.8 million refugees and their descendents relocate to Israel so as to eradicate the Jewish state demographically? And what incentive would the Palestinians have for waiving this demand? Having already obtained every inch of post-1967 Israel for nothing, why shouldn’t they think pre-1967 Israel is attainable too?
Obama didn’t even promise that America would back Israel on these issues. He adopted the Palestinians’ position on the 1967 lines, but he didn’t adopt a single Israeli position in the speech. He didn’t say the refugees would have to move to Palestine rather than Israel. He didn’t say Israel should retain Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or Jewish holy sites. He didn’t say Israel should maintain a military presence along the Jordan River. He didn’t say Israel should keep the major settlement blocs, or even imply it: He specified “mutually agreed swaps,” meaning only those Abbas is willing to accept — and Abbas has consistently refused to agree to Israel retaining the blocs.
He didn’t even insist that the new Fatah-Hamas unity government accept the Quartet’s conditions: recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and honoring previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. He merely demanded an unspecified “credible answer” to the question of how Israel can negotiate with a party “unwilling to recognize [its] right to exist,” thereby implying that such a “credible answer” is possible even if Hamas persists in this unwillingness.
His stated opposition to Abbas’s plan to seek unilateral UN recognition a Palestinian state in September was also mere lip service. As Egypt’s UN ambassador perceptively noted, the speech will actually help Abbas win support for this move. After all, if the U.S. president has just said a Palestinian state should be created in the 1967 lines without having to make peace with Israel or abandon its plans for Israel’s destruction, why should other countries cavil at the notion?
In short, this speech destroyed any prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace ever being achieved. If the president of the United States says peace isn’t necessary for statehood, the Palestinians certainly aren’t going to contradict him.