Walking Back Toward Bibi?

by Matthew Shaffer

The most notable lines from Obama’s speech yesterday:

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. 

With surprising quickness, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office began tweeting his rebuttal, which eventually coalesced into this press statement:

Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.

That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. 

Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.

And, according to the New York Times:

Mr. Netanyahu has complained that Mr. Obama has pushed Israel too far — a point driven home during a furious phone call with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday morning, just hours before Mr. Obama’s speech, during which the prime minister reacted angrily to the president’s plan to endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders for a future Palestinian state.

Then Obama appeared on the BBC last night and, as Jennifer Rubin notes, seemed to moderate his statement:

The basis for negotiations will involve looking at that 1967 border, recognizing that conditions on the ground have changed and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides. That’s on the one hand and on the other hand, and this was an equally important part of the speech, Israel is going to have to feel confident about its security on the West Bank and that security element is going to be important to the Israelis.

Granted, Obama gives himself wiggle room in both speeches. But it’s not implausible to interpret the changing phrasing, from “should be based on the” to “will involve looking at that” 1967 border as a walk-back.

Netanyahu is in the U.S. today, and will be eating lunch with President Obama. It is their seventh meeting during Obama’s presidency.

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