Obama stands up to Netanyahu

May 23, 2011

President Obama was right to stick by his call for Israel’s 1967 boundaries as a starting point for peace negotiations with the Palestinians, in the face of an outsized reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The statement made in the president’s Thursday speech on the political upheaval in the Middle East was not nearly so earth shaking as Mr. Netanyahu and Israel’s other supposed friends have made it out to be. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly said the same thing, and the lines established prior to the 1967 war have been the de facto basis for all of the recent efforts at reconciliation and establishment of a Palestinian state.

In a speech Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential lobbying group in Washington, the president reiterated his stance and his push for Israel to make the “hard choices” necessary to facilitate peace. This does not amount to the United States abandoning its ally in Israel or to the Obama administration adopting a pro-Palestinian point of view. The president has also made clear that the Palestinians have to make hard choices as well — there is no shortcut to statehood through a United Nations vote, and there is no getting around the need for Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, to fully recognize Israel’s right to exist. In fact, the president is expected to make a major push during his current trip to Europe to convince America’s allies there not to support a United Nations vote on recognizing a Palestinian state. That’s hardly the action of a president who has abandoned Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu showed himself to be unserious about peace negotiations with his blustery response to Mr. Obama’s Thursday speech, in which he ignored the crucial (and obvious) caveat that the president made at the time. Mr. Obama is not insisting that the 1967 lines be adopted but that they become the basis for drawing a new map based on mutually agreeable land swaps to produce security and territorial integrity for both sides. Mr. Netanyahu has the chance to amend his initial overreaction in his own speech to AIPAC today, and in an address to Congress tomorrow.

President Obama on Thursday sought to put the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the context of the broader movement for democracy and freedom that is sweeping across the Middle East, and the more remarkable part of that address was Mr. Obama’s assurance that the United States would make the furtherance of its values, rather than the pursuit of stability, the cornerstone of its policy in the region. No state in the Middle East comes close to representing our democratic values the way Israel does. We cannot and will not abandon it. But that doesn’t mean we must accept the false notion that doing what it takes to make peace with the Palestinians will make Israel less secure.

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