Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The American President and the Zionist Prime Minister

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The American President and the Zionist Prime Minister

Article excerpt

Obama Peace Vision Sparks New Disputes

By Pierre Klochendler

"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 seemingly neutral and quasi-consensual principle laid out by U.S. President Barack Obama in his May 19 policy address on the current state of affairs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was all the more harmless that it was buried in the last quarter of his speech.

Yet, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately took to the stage-even before his arrival in Washington for his much anticipated meeting at the White House-and bluntly dismissed the 1967 borders as "indefensible."

Reports abounded in the Israeli media of a new crisis of confidence in U.S.-Israel relations, of the rekindled flames of mutual dislike between the two leaders, of a "furious" telephone exchange between Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the eve of the summit. The body language at the meeting at the Oval Room was also painstakingly dissected.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to strike a more reassuring and optimistic note when declaring that the May 20 meeting "was a lot less dramatic than it appeared," while stressing that the gaps between the two leaders were smaller than they seemed. Barak added, "I think the Americans know well the nuances of our positions."

The Netanyahu statement from his spokesman in the U.S. reiterating that "the differences of opinion are among friends" didn't assuage Israeli concerns back home. With such allies who needs enemies, caustically noted Israeli commentators.

What are those "nuances of positions" that provoked the ire of the Israeli premier? After all, as a disconcerted U.S. State Department official stressed, Obama's speech was "good for Israel-and, certainly good for Netanyahu's vision of Israel."

Didn't the president go out of his way to firmly reject the Palestinian endeavor for U.N.-endorsed recognition of statehood without negotiations as a de-legitimization campaign of Israel that "won't create an independent state"? He demanded that the Palestinians explain the recent reconciliation agreement between the nationalist Fatah movement and Hamas and provide "a credible answer" to "the legitimate questions" raised by the Islamic movement's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Obama also adopted the Netanyahu security doctrine of a "non-militarized" Palestine and a "phased withdrawal" from the occupied territories. And, he embraced Netanyahu's old-new credo of a "Jewish State."

Besides, what Obama didn't spell out was also good for the Israeli leader. He didn't demand a renewed freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank in the first place. He actually mentioned the settlement issue in one quick sentence while construction of 1,500 housing units was officially approved in occupied East Jerusalem.

And, he didn't even mention the Israeli Left's peace advocacy credo, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that proposes an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in exchange for the Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories (the 1967 lines), a recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as a "just solution" for the Palestinian refugees.

So what was wrong with Netanyahu, asked some Israelis, flabbergasted at the prospect of increasing alienation, what's more, from their country's strongest ally?

Netanyahu seems to have wanted to create an artificial dispute, purposefully ignoring the Obama "land swap" and "Jewish State" principles of peace. What are borders based on the pre-1967 cease-fire lines with territorial swaps if not the realization that, in any future agreement, Israel will retain major settlement blocs that have taken hold in the West Bank over the past 40-plus years? …

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