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Bibi Opts For Confrontation
Prime minister, at AIPAC, revives call against ‘indefensible’ borders.
Tue, 05/24/2011 - 20:00
Editor And Publisher
Gary Rosenblatt
Gary Rosenblatt

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had an excellent response to President Barack Obama’s major speech on the Arab world and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But it came two days too late, and the net result is another hasbara disaster for Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said on Saturday that Obama had “shown his commitment to Israel’s security, both in word and deed,” in last Thursday’s presidential speech, adding: “We are working with the administration to achieve common goals.”

Why couldn’t he have said that the day of the Obama speech instead of immediately rejecting the president’s views on moving peace talks forward?

Surely Netanyahu understood that with the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions as wide as they are now, the Obama speech was not going to make a practical difference. The Palestinians are determined to push for statehood at the United Nations in September. The president’s effort to derail that effort was not enough to get them back to the negotiating table that they left last fall.

Why, then, didn’t Bibi call the Palestinians’ bluff by welcoming the president’s speech as a good starting point for peace talks — the Israeli leader wasn’t obligated to embrace every aspect of the speech — and put the onus on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Co. to resume discussions?

Instead, the prime minister was quick to assert that Israel could never abide by the pre-1967 borders, so quick, in fact, that he appears to the world as the primary stumbling block to progress.

The one explanation that makes sense to me is that Bibi wasn’t trying to persuade world opinion with his tough stance. Rather, he was playing to what he considers his most important audience: the Israeli public, and more specifically his political rivals on the right.

Given the premise that all Israeli politics is local, it makes sense that Bibi wanted to prove to his core constituents that he has what it takes to defy the president of the United States. And it seems to have worked, short term. But the deterioration of the relationship between Israel’s leader and his single most important ally in the world is worrisome.

Not that this situation is all Bibi’s fault. It’s clear that the contents of the Obama speech came as a surprise to the prime minister — not the first time this has happened. Remember Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze two years ago? These small bombshells indicate the lack of trust the White House has for this Israeli leader.

There were more than a few disturbing elements to Obama’s State Department speech. His view of the Arab Spring was so focused on the positive intentions of the young Facebook crowd in Egypt that he did not address the growing worries over a future Muslim Brotherhood government. He made no mention of Saudi Arabia, no doubt because American support for that autocratic government did not fit the themes the president was stressing. And on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he made the case that discussions on Jerusalem and the Palestinian insistence on the right of return for refugees come only after the resolution of borders and security. So there would be two stages to negotiations, making Israel all the more vulnerable. Israeli officials had hoped Obama would make it clear that the right of return was simply not in the cards.

(Ari Shavit, writing in the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz, said that in offering that sequence, “Obama presented Israel with a suicidal proposition: an interim agreement based on 1967 borders.” But Shavit concluded that the “egregious error” was “an honest mistake” on Obama’s part and can be “easily corrected.”)

That may be wishful thinking, but lost in the controversy were the many positive aspects for Israel of the Obama speech, most notably adopting Bibi’s principle that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state and that a future Palestine would be a demilitarized state. It also condemned Hamas and the delegitimization campaign, as well as the effort to establish a Palestinian state at the UN this fall. And it did not mention settlement construction.

Unfortunately, Bibi’s response — asserting that the pre-‘67 borders were “indefensible” without acknowledging Obama’s reference to land swaps — ignored the pluses and echoed the famous resolution of the Arab League summit following the Six-Day War. Known as “The Three No’s” — no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel — they indicated to the world the Arabs’ refusal to accept the reality of a Jewish state in the region.

The final communiqué of that summit insisted on the Palestinians’ right to all of Palestine and made a commitment to destroy the State of Israel.

There are those who say the Palestinians’ intentions have not changed. But Bibi didn’t give the world a chance to see that Abbas and his new partner, Hamas, barely able to talk to each other, are hardly prepared to negotiate with Israel.

Bibi’s swift and blunt rejection of Obama’s plan set the two leaders on a confrontational path that the prime minister seemed to revive intentionally rather than defuse when he addressed the annual AIPAC convention in Washington on Monday night.

Speaking to the 10,000 delegates (you read that right, 10,000), he praised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), but barely mentioned Obama, and declared, to great applause: “Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 borders.” (The line was not in his prepared text.)

This after Obama addressed AIPAC the day before and sought to clarify his words and assuage those who interpreted his State Department speech a few days earlier to mean that he was calling for Israel to retreat to the pre-1967 borders.

Obama explained on Sunday morning that the Israelis and Palestinians themselves “will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.” Sounding a bit peeved, he added, “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.” In other words, nothing new in substance, just more directly stated.

But Netanyahu, whose initial reactions to the Obama State Department speech helped rile up some elements of the pro-Israel community to a fever pitch, kept the tension level high Monday night by again implying that the White House is seeking to impose a pre-‘67 “indefensible” border on Israel.

The irony is that the prime minister’s decision to play up the confrontation with Obama, perhaps as a means of bolstering his position back home, was contrary to a major theme of the AIPAC conference, which was “safer, stronger and better together” in reference to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Across the board, Republican and Democratic leaders emphasized repeatedly during the conference the mutual benefit of strong U.S.-Israel ties, bipartisan support, cooperation, trust, unity, etc. Yet the two top leaders in Washington and Jerusalem clearly are not on the same page — and can’t hide their distrust, one for the other.

This is more than a personal grudge match; it can affect strategic policy and the very future of the Jewish state. Israel, of course, has a lot more to lose here than the U.S., so the onus is on Bibi to make the relationship better.

At the AIPAC conference it was clear that the prime minister’s initial reaction to the Obama State Department speech left delegates with a sense of deep concern about U.S. plans. For many, the mood at the Washington Convention Center reflected a sense of anger and fear over Obama’s intentions. In his talk Monday night, Bibi had a chance to put the thousands of pro-Israel supporters at ease, as the president sought to do the day before, but he chose not to, instead injecting again the concern about being threatened with “indefensible” borders.

His speech to Congress on Tuesday was very well received, and made Israel’s case eloquently. But it’s the president, more than members of Congress, who shapes foreign policy.

The good news or bad news, depending on your Mideast politics, is that Obama has made no mention of any new effort to restart the troubled and long-delayed negotiations, indicating that he is turning his attention to other world problems. The storm has passed, and in the end, little of substance regarding the Mideast impasse will result from all the heated rhetoric of the last week.

All the more reason why Bibi should have responded positively to the president’s speeches instead of reinforcing his image that he — rather than Abbas — is the Mideast’s Dr. No.

Abbas has chosen peace with Hamas (for the immediate future, at least) over a chance for peace with Israel. And Bibi has chosen confronting Obama rather than working at restoring their relationship. I hope it’s not a permanent mistake.


1967 borders, AIPAC, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, U.S.-Israel relations

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i was an Obama voter. and i am proud of how Nenanyahu responded to another ambush by Obama and his adminsistration. why is this Presidend so agains Israel? Why does he think that it is always Israel's responsibility to make peace; what about the Arabs? the Arabs continue to send rockets and terrorise Israel and you complain about Israeli 'hasbara'? Why arent you defending ISRAEL in your paper? why arent you calling a spade a spade and writing how this evil arab government, that has now joined with hamas forces pledged to the destruction of Israel, is unacceptable partner?

They say that "no good deed goes unpunished" and how right they are. A contribution to UJA-Federation begets a free receipt of "The Jewish Week" which, understandably, but regrettably, caters to the overwhelmingly left-wing (in today's jargon,"progressive"-hah) Jewish readership of your journal. Even so, your editorial perversion of the Bibi-Obama volleys incomprehensively obliged your following to mouth the unblemished chutzpah that Bibi "confronted" Obama. Rather, any sober reflection of their comments and meeting, must reasonably and justifiably mirror the unvarnished truth that Obama confronted Bibi, a capella, on the day BEFORE their appointed meeting. For he announced, before Bibi landed on American soil, that his Administration sets the pre-1967 borders as the baseline for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Bibi neither confronted nor confounded Obama in summarising the history of Israel and its defence, from the day of her birth, to the present. This was not confrontation but a contribution to Obama's learning curve, who, as President, unlike any of his predecessors, while in office, has yet deigned to visit Israel. Some enduring "friend" he portrays, while you, in knee- jerk fashion, attempt to whitewash this President. Harrumph!

anyone who thinks any future "palestinian" state would be willing to be demilitarized is extremely misguided. it would be a sovereign state and as such could do whatever it wanted in terms of military equipment. the arabs under abbas already have an armed military force thanks to american training and taxpayer funds. who do you think it will be aimed at? for obama or any american jews to say that israel should give up any area that would serve as a defense against attack i say shame on you!

I couldn't disagree with you more, Gary. Obama pre-empted his meeting with Netanyahu by giving a speech and specifically stating that Israel must withdraw to 1967 borders. Netanyahu came back with a public response that opposed. There was nothing wrong with that, considering Obama's public negotiating stance. They both started out at opposite ends of the rink. Netanyahu's second BRILLIANT speech explained his position in a kinder and gentler way than the initial response. He explained the danger, the naivety of thinking that the Arab "spring" is necessarily a positive step for all the countries involved, and he stated quite clearly that Israel is the only democracy in that region and currently the only stable government and friend of the U.S. Kol HaKavod to Bibi and Shame on President Obama for his deceitful public attempt to throw Israel under the bus!

1) Obama asked Israel to start negotiating a territorial compromise base on the pre-1967 borders.
2) Obama stated that the status of the Palestinian refugees (their right to return to the State of Israel and claim the property they had before 1948) would be discussed between Israel and the Palestinians.
3) Obama stated that the status of Jerusalem would be discussed between Israel and the Palestinians.
4) Bibi just asked from the Palestinians the recognition and the right of Israel to exist...
My perception is very clear: Obama is playing the game of the oil producing countries trying to appease them by demanding more from Israel than from the Palestinians.
Bibi has a responsibility to protect the State of Israel from extremely wealthy, well armed and vicious enemies surrounding Israel in the entire region...
How many of the bleeding heart writers in this blog would feel safe living next to a Palestinian State fully supported by Hammas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iranian leadership and every left wing indoctrinated zombie (including the author of the article), but under questionable protection of Obama?
And Bibi represented me and many millions of Jewish people who deeply want peace and safety. Not the suicidal self-righteous attitude of individuals sitting five thousand miles away from the Middle East in a comfortable sofa while having the nerve to be critical of the State of Israel which struggles to exist under the constant threat of destruction!

I agree with everything that Jeffrey Woolf wrote, above, and add: You know, even though this has unfortunately not always been the case in the past (the most bizarre and immoral example being the turnabout of Ariel Sharon), when people vote for a Prime Minister on the basis of a particular platform, it is actually logical and moral for them to expect that he actually honors that platform.

Most Israelis are not willing to take risks to make a pseudo-peace deal with Fatah/Hamas. Yes, this is disappointing to"ya gotta do something" American Jews. And we can live with that disappointment. It is better than the alternative.

Too many Americans have the concept that Bibi & the Israelis are 100% correct and "the Arabs" are 100% wrong. The problem is that Israelis need to make peace with the Palestinians; not the Egyptians, not the Jordanians, not the Iraqis, etc.

I heard Ariel Sharon speak back in 1980. He, too, could not say "Palestinian" then. However, he grew and matured and came to the conclusion that Israel needs to make peace with the Palestinians.

Bibi and the Israeli right assume they can have it all: every square centimeter of land in Yehudah and Shomron (the West Bank) and the Golan Heights and dictate the terms for a peace agreement that the Palestinians will just fall over themselves to accept. As Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have all said, both sides will have to make very painful concessions. Bibi has said without really indicating anywhere that he is serious about making these concessions.

Bibi & the Israeli right also like to think that the "silent majority" of Israelis view the issues like they do. The reality is the opposite. Since 2002, there have been at least 12 surveys that showed consistantly that the average Israeli would welcome trading land for peace using the 1967 borders with appropriate land swaps (see http://972mag.com/what-do-israelis-think-of-1967-borders-with-swaps/) as the basis of negotiation.

Barack Obama is right on the mark when he says that the status quo is not sustainable. If nothing is done, then the Palestinians will get the vote for their state in September; the vote will be 180-2 with only the US and Israel dissenting. Many of our friends including Australia, Germany, Greece, Italy and Poland will vote for it, too. That would force President Obama to veto the Palestinian UN membership against the entire world concensus. Not a very positive position to be in.

Given the current direction that Bibi is leading Israel, Israel will eventually be forced to either rule over millions of Palestinians or give them the vote. Is that what we really want?

Thank you, Mr President, for telling it like it is.

Chaim Casper
North Miami Beach, FL

I believe that Netanyahu did the best that he could considering that he was bushwacked by President Obama in his State Department speech. In the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee there is very little disagreement between the parties of the Center-left and Center-right. It is only on the extremes that the differences become acute and those parties (particularly the Arab parties) will never gain power. Had the speeches to AIPAC and Congress been made by a Barak or Livni maybe the language would have been more diplomatic but the content would have been the same. In the meantime, we Jewish Americans have to rally around the State of Israel and let the President know that our votes are not in his hip pocket. If President Obama doesn't stand by Israel I will either vote for the Republican nominee or abstain in the next Presidential vote.

If anyone has opted for confrontation it is President Obama. He has consistently advanced positions supporting the the self-appointed Arab/Palestinian leaders. He has done this in direct confrontation to the positions of the democratically elected leaders of the State of Israel. On the last visit of Israel head of state the President treated the PM in a contemptuous manner. He then ambushes PM Netanyahu in the last moment, after having assured the PM that he would not do so in his State Department speech.

Now that PM Netanyahu stands on his principle (should I say his sworn duty to protect and defend the citizens of his country), you characterize the situation as the PM having opted for confrontation. Are you advising Mr. Netanyahu to "quietly get on the train to the concentration camp"?

I strongly disagree with a number of your points.

1) In diplomacy, especially Middle East diplomacy, words have an almost magical impact. By inserting the 1967 armistice lines explicitly, President Obama dictated that 100% of the West Bank must be handed over to the Palestinians. Land swaps do not satisfy the strategic needs of Israel, if that is the base line. Once inserted, there would be no way to negotiate.

2) It is far from certain that President Obama is an honest broker as far as Israel is concerned. PM Netanyahu was, therefore, not playing only to his right flank. He was expressing the overwhelming Israeli consensus, as borne out by the Israeli press and polls taken immediately thereafter.

3) President Obama's fudging of the refugee issue was a deadly shot at Israel, and could not be ignored.

Israel's hasbarah is, admittedly, terrible. However, nothing would make the Arabs (and their Leftist and European supporters) either abandon their plans to unilaterally declare a state or to demonize Israel through agitprop. In any event, as well, a real peace deal is impossible until the Muslim World goes through a Reformation and Enlightenment. In such a case, Israel might as well be straight about what it can and cannot do.

The problem from the start with Obama was that there was always smoke. Those Jews who do not automatically vote Democratic were concerned about someone who did not have a track record as a supporter of Israel and who sat and listened for 20 years to an anti-semite preacher. The reason why Obama's statement recognizing the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations got so much of us riled up was that this was evidence of the fire that followed the smoke. We would not have reacted the same way if Bush II had made the same statement as we knew that he was a friend to Israel.

Natanyahu did introduce a new approach. He said, as we recognize a Palestinian State, rather then promote the destruction of Israel and the Jews, as in Hamas Charter, Abbas can say 6 words. " I recognize the State of Israel" and negotiations can begin.

For once I agree with Rosenblatt. This is going to come back and bite us you know where. All Netanyahu had to do was say three things.

1. We can't make a move until you cough up Gilead Shalit

2. For real peace talks the next round has to take place in the Knesset. Conference room A, whatever. But no more Camp Davids or Sharm el Sheik

3. Insist that any deal has to go to a vote. And that includes the palestinians in jordan, Syria. whatever.

It never ceases to amaze me the Jewish Left which you represent - You fail to realize one thing - why didn't President Obama say anything about the Fatah-Hamas merger - why didn't the President say that the Palestinians MUST RECONGIZE ISRAEL's right to exist and have a STATE.

To me you sound like a NEVILLE CHAMBERLIN - let's get real do you actually expect that if we give any land back there is going to be Peace - yes PIECES of Jewish Lives -

Wake up and Smell the offee - it is people like you who lived in Germany before WWII - take that aw you wish.

If Bibi had responded positively to Obama's suggestions, he would lose his Likud base. Many right-wingers here (in Israel) have already rejected what he said over the last few days because he spoke of giving back land for a peace that will never happen.