Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas at White House 311 (R).
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Israeli society has the proclivity to latch on to a new national fear every month, while quickly forgetting the old one: The February fear of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover was replaced by April’s fears of Syria’s fate and the Hamas-Fatah unity (will they or won’t they?); a month later those fears were subsequently traded in for the fear of Congress speeches. Let’s not forget of course, the mother of all fears, September 2011, when the Palestinians are expected to demand the UN to make a unilateral declaration of statehood.
Mountain or Molehill?
However, prior to US President Barack Obama’s address to the state department yesterday, the threat of Congress speeches seemed like the least significant of the last few months’ fashionable fears. The reason for this was two-pronged.
Firstly, media pundits for the most part weren’t actually predicting anything too radical to be announced - at least on the part of the US president. Second, when all is said and done, the western notion of “words as weapons” doesn’t really apply when you’re a tiny Jewish state surrounded by people that seek your violent destruction.
Thus the fears that concern human lives, as February-April’s Arab activities did, markedly devalued whatever strong-worded opinion Obama or Netanyahu could potentially express in their speeches.
But yesterday was yesterday, the pundits were wrong and words are weapons – especially in Israel’s case.
Obama was the first US president to call for a settlement freeze early on in his presidency. Israel’s later refusal to meet this demand turned into yet another Palestinian excuse for playing truant at the negotiating table.
In Thursday’s speech, Obama became the first US president to demand that the IDF withdraw from the West Bank without security measures in place. He proposed a return to 1967 lines
and an IDF evacuation from what Netanyahu termed the “indefensible lines”
of the Jordan Valley, which would be passed over to the Palestinian state. The Palestinian state would thus be established in the hills of Judea and Samaria - some 1000 meters above Israel. This means that anyone with a grad could realistically target Israel’s coastal cities, including Netanya, which would be only 8.7 miles from the new undefended border with Palestine. Such a calamitous outcome renders the threat of ballistic missiles from other enemies, including Iran, as being almost moot.
Obama neatly sidestepped clearly defining 1967 lines, and made no clear determination of the future of land swaps regarding the large settlement blocs of East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. Thus in effect, the president reversed 40 years of American support (as expressed in former president George W Bush’s 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon) for Israel to have defensible borders – an absolute precondition to the Jewish state’s security and self-determination.
Not so neatly, Obama also sidestepped other critical issues from both sides that have until now been the root cause of impasses during negotiations. The Palestinian demands concerning the right of return and Jerusalem were quickly dismissed as “emotional issues”
to be discussed at a later date. Israel’s demand for recognition as the Jewish nation’s homeland was candy wrapped into being the duty of America and the international community to acknowledge, and not the Palestinians per se.
Concerns that a Palestinian unity cannot be tolerated until Hamas retracts certain clauses from its charter were given only minimal attention. Primarily, the call for Israel’s destruction, Netanyahu’s chief concern regarding the charter, wasn’t mentioned at all.
The only validation given by Obama was that “the agreement between “Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel… and in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to [the] question [of Israel’s right to exist.]”
Obama is an excellent orator, and though his speech was camouflaged in the nomenclature terms of UN Resolution 242, his immediate demand to return to 1967 lines ultimately cancels out the Resolution’s call for Israel’s right
to “live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Furthermore, his “reprimand” to the Palestinians over their UN unilateral declaration efforts in no way balances the demands placed on Israel and only serves to enhance the current stalemate.
Thus the President has spoken. And just as the demand for the settlement freeze made further negotiating impossible, the demands Obama laid out in his speech will no doubt have the same effect. Practically, all this means is that until Israel withdraws from ‘67 lines, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will have simply earned himself one more excuse to add to his growing arsenal for not negotiating.
Thank you Mr President, for once again exonerating the Palestinians from further peace talks. For everyone’s sake let’s hope that your words won’t have time to turn into weapons before your term is up.The writer is editor of The Jerusalem Post's Premium Zone.