|Middle East Socratic Seminar
Directions: You will need to prepare for a Socratic Seminar on Middle East foreign policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Read the four articles and watch President Obama’s speech. Then answer the questions below.
1. In your opinion who has rights to the land, Jews or Palestinians and why?
2. What should happen to the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza strip? Should these territories be completely controlled by the Palestinians? Should they remain in Palestinian limited self-rule or should they be returned to Israel?
3. How does the United States support Israel? Should the United States support Israel? Why or Why not?
4. Should Israel be allowed to have settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza strip?
5. What is President Obama’s new policy on Israel? Do you agree with Obama’s new Middle East policy?
I. The U.S. Should Support an Israeli State in the Middle East.
Thesis: The United States should continue to support Israel to promote stability in the Middle East and to maintain a strategic ally in the fight against terrorism.
Summary: The United Nations created the modern Israeli state in 1948 as an attempt to resolve ongoing conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Nevertheless, ethnic and religious conflicts have continued to pose a threat to both Jewish and Muslim populations in the region. The decision to partition the territory known as the British Mandate of Palestine was justified by the need to provide a home for thousands of Jewish people displaced during the Second World War. The Jewish people have continued to defend a historic and spiritual claim to the land of Israel. The survival of Israel is essential to establishing stability in the Middle East. Governments of the region, deemed autocratic and inherently unstable, appear likely to collapse into military conflict if Israel is left undefended. The influence of terrorist factions further exacerbates this view. In addition, Israel has been a strong supporter of the U.S. war on terror and occupies a strategically important position for gathering information and intelligence about the development of terrorist organizations.
Background of the Conflict
The conflict between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians has its roots in the Zionist movement of the nineteenth century. The primary goal of the Zionist movement was to establish a Jewish state that would help to unite the Jewish people. For religious reasons, the Zionists wanted to occupy the region known as the "land of Israel," composed of portions of present-day Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.
The Zionist movement is based on the idea that the Jewish people have a historic and spiritual claim to the land of Israel. Long a majority in the region, the Jewish people were persecuted by a succession of kingdoms, beginning with the Babylonians, who forced the Jews to leave Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE. Over subsequent centuries, other groups, including the Roman and Ottoman Empires, forced the Jewish people to move farther away from Israel.
By the twentieth century, thousands of Jewish people were living in the British territory of Palestine, which included important portions of the historic land of Israel. Within Palestine, the Jewish community and the primarily Muslim Arab-Palestinian community engaged in frequent conflicts. Following the Holocaust of World War II, many Jewish people who were displaced from Europe joined the Zionist movement, placing pressure on Allied powers to create a Jewish state in Palestine.
In 1948, the State of Israel was established on the border of the Mediterranean Sea. The Allied powers smuggled over 80,000 displaced Jews into the region in the years before partition. Immediate conflict erupted between the Arab League, composed of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and the newly-formed Jewish community in Israel.
During the First Arab-Israeli War (1948-49), the Israelis gained additional territory from neighboring Palestinians and utilized military support from the British to gain an advantage over Palestinian forces. In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a group that seeks to remove Jewish people from Palestinian territory and restore Islamic control, was founded in Egypt. The PLO played a major role in the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel expanded its territory to include portions of the Gaza Strip, Syria, and the city of Jerusalem. The Arab-Israeli War of 1973 solidified Israel's territorial gains.
The continuing conflicts have placed increasing economic burdens on both Israel and the PLO. The United States and the United Kingdom continue to provide military and financial support to Israel. Israel and the Palestinians signed a peace agreement in 1979, but the actual peace process did not begin until the 1990s. Since that time, the Israelis have returned portions of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control.
In the twenty-first century, the scope of the conflict has included the Israeli military and members of Islamic militant factions, including Hezbollah and Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Hamas). While Islamic terrorist cells have committed acts of violence in Israel, the Israeli military has defended itself through counterterrorism initiatives. The 2006 Lebanon War resulted in over 1,000 deaths before a tentative peace agreement was reached with the help of United Nations negotiators.
A Historic Claim
The basis for the spiritual Jewish claim is partly based on historical presence. According to some investigations, the first Jewish communities in Israel were in place as early as 1300 BCE. During the centuries following the Jewish Diaspora, in which the Jewish people were dispersed from their homeland, members of the Jewish community continued to advocate a movement to return Israel to Jewish control.
After the 1948 partition of the Mandate of Palestine, the Palestinians began claiming that Israel was the historic home of Arab Palestinians and not the Jewish people. Since that time, researchers and historians have been debating historical evidence to evaluate the ownership claims of both groups. Most evidence suggests that the Jewish people were the first occupants of the region and therefore have the strongest historical claim to Israel.
Creating Global Stability
The Middle East is plagued with economic and political instability. Numerous ethnic, religious, and territorial conflicts have prevented many Middle Eastern states from developing stable governments. Some believe that the United States should withdraw its support and allow the parties to resolve their issues independently.
Israel must be protected both to ensure the survival of the Jewish people and to foster stability in the region. Israel is a democratic state geographically surrounded by autocratic regimes. In the absence of foreign aid and military protection, there is a risk that Israel could be destroyed, resulting in further destabilization of an already unstable region and more mass displacement.
As the Middle East continues to evolve, Israel will play an important role by supporting the development of local democratic movements and opposing the establishment of military regimes. The destruction of Israel would create a power vacuum, leaving neighboring nations to compete for the territory. By supporting Israel, the United States is investing in a democratic support structure that may eventually become a focal point for the political development of the region.
Supporting Global Security
Over the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some critics have charged that Israel committed terrorist acts against the Palestinians. In addition, some have suggested that Israel was not justified in increasing its territory during the wars of 1967 and 1973. Others have argued that the Israelis use preemptive attacks against suspected terrorists, which may result in civilian casualties and unnecessary damages. However, many people find that the conflict is unclear and that both the Palestinians and the Israelis are guilty of committing crimes against each other.
Regardless of where blame is assigned, the current conflict must be resolved in the interest of global security, human rights, and political stability. Since 2001, it has become clear that the United States requires strong allies in the struggle against terrorism. Israel provides this support by forming a buffer against the rise of terrorist cells. In addition, Israel provides the United States with a strategically important location to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence.
In recent years, Israel's primary opponents have been terrorist organizations, similar to those that have carried out terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe. The reasons behind the Arab-Israeli conflict can no longer be the primary issue of concern. At this point, the United States is fully engaged in an effort to put an end to terrorism across the globe. States like Israel, that are located in the midst of the conflict, and that are important contributors to the fight against terrorism, must be protected.
The United States' support for Israel is a necessity in the current political landscape. There are numerous reasons to support Israel, ranging from spiritual and historic to pragmatic. Global stability and security may very well depend on the success of the nation of Israel. Opinion polls conducted by CBS News in 2008 indicated that a majority of Americans believe that the United States' amount of support to Israel is "about right." In addition, Gallup Poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans sympathize with Israel more than with the Palestinians in the Middle East situation. Given the support of the American people, the endangered stability of the Middle East, and the ongoing threat of terrorism, it is the duty of the U.S. government to continue its commitment to helping build a strong and secure Israel.
II. American Foreign Policy is Biased Toward Israel
Thesis: The United States' foreign policy regarding Israel has done nothing to resolve the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and has been one of the major causes of instability in the Middle East.
Summary: Israel is the largest recipient of United States foreign aid, with over $3.1 billion of American tax dollars flowing to Israel annually. Most of this aid comes in the form of military hardware and equipment. The administration of President George W. Bush did nothing to help resolve the Palestinian crisis. While Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have drawn universal condemnation, the American government continues to resolutely support Israel and blame Palestinian "terrorists" for the harsh Israeli response. American foreign policy in the Middle East has long been dictated by strategic considerations for oil as well as unqualified support for the United States' strategic partners, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Israel. President Bush and Congress faithfully stood by the actions of Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. This support tarnished America's image internationally, particularly in the Muslim world.
Israel is one of the only democracies in the Middle East. To this day, it remains a spiritual home for many American Jews. However, the United States should use its influence in Israel to help settle the Palestinian conflict and form a lasting peace in the region.
Israel and America
In 1948, against the advice of Secretary of State George Marshall, President Harry Truman formally recognized Israel as a nation. Soon after recognition, Israel successful fought its Arab neighbors in the first Arab-Israeli War (1948), expelling thousands of Palestinian Arabs from their homes. Many settled in neighboring countries, marking the beginning of the Palestinian refugee crisis. Further land annexations and ethnic cleansing took place during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel seized territory in East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The United Nations estimates that there were 914,000 refugees in 1950; this number grew to 4.4 million by 2005.
Over the past sixty years, the United States and Israel have slowly developed a strategic partnership. The United States benefited when Israel destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian armies during the 1967 and 1973 wars. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a crucial emergency airlift of ammunition cemented strategic ties between the United States and Israel. However, U.S., support for Israel through the Yom Kippur War came with a price tag: the Arab Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (AOPEC) cut oil supplies to the west in response, resulting in the first oil crisis of the 1970s.
U.S. President Jimmy Carter helped broker the Camp David Peace Agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1979. However, peace treaties between Arab nations did little to quell the growing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), led by Yassir Arafat, and other Palestinian groups launched attacks against Israel. Palestinian youth began the First Intifada in 1987, giving voice to their growing frustration with the progress of the peace process.
In the early 1990s, U.S. President Bill Clinton attempted to broker a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. After establishing a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, Clinton tried on several different occasions to negotiate a treaty between Yassir Arafat and the Israeli government. After the initial success of the 1993 Oslo Accords, intransigence on both sides resulted in renewed tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.
The election of George W. Bush as U.S. president coincided with the election of Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister. Until he was incapacitated by a stroke in late 2005, Sharon was a controversial Israeli leader. He led the hard-right Likud Party and many blamed him for actually sparking the Second Intifada against Israel by visiting the holy site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 2000.
The al-Aqsa Intifada
The al-Aqsa Intifada, also known as the Second Intifada, proved even more horrific than the first. Following the failure to create a Palestinian state during the Clinton Administration, several Palestinian groups began to launch quasi-military attacks against the Israeli forces occupying the West Bank and Gaza. In response to Palestinian civilian deaths from Israeli weapons, the Palestinians escalated their attacks and began utilizing suicide bombers against Israeli civilian targets. Along with the assassinations of Palestinian leaders, Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza resulted in massive civilian casualties. In order to end the continuing Palestinian attacks, the Israeli government constructed security walls around Palestinian towns in the West Bank. In Gaza, the entire region suffered from periods of total blockade. These actions, combined with extensive, arbitrary and humiliating check points, nearly shut down the Palestinian economy.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks resulted in the United States' adoption of a more aggressive approach to terrorism. Since 2001, through the remainder of the Bush presidency, the U.S. government did not protest any of the Israeli tactics against the Palestinians. In stark contrast to former presidents, Bush supported Prime Minster Sharon's assertion that Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat was an "obstacle to peace" and did not protest the Israeli military actions that made Arafat a prisoner in his Ramallah headquarters. Bush is widely viewed as the most 'pro-Israeli' president since Truman; as such he lost any chance to be seen as an honest broker. The United States was almost alone in its support of Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 2006, in a failed attempt to push out Iranian backed Hezbollah forces.
The death of Yassir Arafat from natural causes on November 11, 2004, was an opportunity for a new approach to the Palestinian crisis. The new head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, called for elections for the legislative body. In January 2006, Palestinians voted for the political wing of the militant group Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Hamas). This stunned the international community. Israel, along with the United States and other Western countries, refused to recognize the results and declared the elections null and void. To Arabs, this was considered blatant hypocrisy, since President Bush had endorsed the benefits of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Hamas election demonstrated that the Palestinian people no longer had any hope for a peaceful settlement with Israel. Since Israel continued to repress the Palestinians both politically and economically, the Palestinians saw no reason to seek accommodation with Israel. As Arafat's death revealed, the Palestinian people view the PLO and its political arm, Fatah, to be corrupt and indifferent to the plight of the Palestinian people. Initially, a majority of Palestinians consider Hamas and other militant groups to be their true representatives. Such groups, Palestinians argued, were at least willing to fight the Israeli occupation. By the end of 2008, this support had slackened considerably, as Palestinians saw their day-to-day existence become more of a struggle; one of the lasting failures of the Bush Administration was its unwillingness to move on this discontent to find a resolution to the issues that continue to divide these two populations.
After the election that brought Hamas to power, the United States and Israel have been covertly supplying Abbas and the Palestinian Authority with money and arms to combat Hamas. In December 2006, a low-grade civil war broke out between the two factions, with frequent street battles in the West Bank and Gaza. By June 2007, Abbas had announced the dissolution of the Palestinian legislature, in reaction to Hamas successfully expelling Fatah security forces from the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy continued to decline as a result of Israel's control of all points of access to and from Palestinian areas. Without any possibility for trade, Palestinians remained unemployed and increasingly receptive to radical messages.
Talks between Abbas and Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas, resulted in little progress, despite the committed involvement of states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to bring reconciliation between the two sides. Unless Israel and the United States become involved in the process, there remains little hope for peace. Moreover, covert support of the United States and Israel for Fatah rendered the group illegitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Increasingly, it was obvious that the situation in Gaza prevented any possible positive resolution of the problem of sovereignty for the Palestinians on the West Bank.
The situation became only more desperate in January of 2009 when Israel invaded Gaza. A series of escalating events, including rockets fired from northern Gaza into Israel, a strategic bombing by Israel of Gaza on November 4, 2008 and the ever-worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza that had resulted from the closed border policy that Israel imposed on Gaza, all contributed to an end to the truce that had been in place for several months prior to this military action. Despite almost universal condemnation of the utterly disproportional Israeli response to Hamas rockets, the U.S. continued to insist that Hamas was responsible for the death and destruction taking place in Gaza.
Israel's invasion resulted in at least 1,300 Palestinian deaths (as compared to 13 for Israel); once again, Israel was widely condemned by all but the Bush Administration for an excessive use of force, including incidents that resulted in investigations for possible war crimes. The incursion ended just as President Obama took office in the United States. Hardliners on all sides gained from the conflict, making the job of Obama's envoy to the region all the more difficult. Former Senator George Mitchell represents a more neutral figure than was seen during the Bush Administration, raising hopes in the Middle East that the period of intense unilateral support for Israel by the United States might moderate.
The American-Israeli Political Affairs Committee in the United States
According to some academics and journalists, the reason behind the United States' silent approval of Israel's actions in regard to the Palestinians is the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential Jewish lobbying group. The AIPAC donates vast sums of money to both the Democratic and Republican parties, ensuring that the state of Israel gets the full support of the American government. Many critics of the AIPAC claim the group does not represent America's best interests. Additionally, the group has allegedly used charges of anti-Semitism to silence critics of the AIPAC and Israel.
There has been some debate over the AIPAC. The group has been accused of undermining and damaging American foreign policy efforts. John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt level such accusations in their 2007 book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." In his book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid" (2006), former President Jimmy Carter accuses Israel of engaging in a systemic division of the region based on race. Carter's book received scathing criticism, and Carter was accused of anti-Semitism. AIPAC and other Jewish groups have been charged with engineering that campaign against the former president.
This is not an issue that any American president can ignore; unless someone addresses the excessive power of the Jewish lobby, the problem of the Palestinians will continue to fester. As it festers, it breeds discontent and disillusion with American foreign policy throughout the Middle East and North Africa. No other issue in the region can be resolved in the absence of an equitable settlement of this issue, a settlement sure to displease AIPAC. A peace must be found that secures the future of Israel, but that also recognizes the legitimate humanitarian, economic and security needs of the Palestinians. One-sided brokering is no longer an option.
As the Bush Administration left office, the world's opinion of the United States and Israel was at an all-time low. Most Arabs and many Europeans view both countries as oppressors of popular Arab movements in the Middle East. Israel's continued use of harsh military tactics to control the Palestinians and their allies, as witnessed in southern Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip, can only end in failure, merely sowing the seeds of conflict for generations to come. Arab terrorism will affect not just Israel, but the United States as well. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has stated that the United States' support of Israel and the Israeli repression of the Palestinian people served as a motive for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Until Israel and the United States recognize Palestine's democratically-elected government, there will be no peace in the Middle East, and terrorism will continue.
III. Barack Obama: "A New Beginning" (2009)
On June 4, 2009, U.S. president Barack Obama delivered this speech, entitled "A New Beginning," from Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt. The speech fulfilled an earlier campaign promise made by Obama to give a major speech from the capital of a Muslim nation. While acknowledging the conflicts of the past in the speech, Obama called for a new relationship between the United States and the Muslim world based on shared principles as well as "mutual interest and mutual respect." The following is a full text transcript of Obama's remarks.
Asecond major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed—more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction—or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews—is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians—have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.
For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers—for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. The obligations—the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them—and all of us—to live up to our responsibilities.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.
IV. Obama Presses Israel to Make ‘Hard Choices’
By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to “make the hard choices” necessary to bring about a stable peace.
Mr. Obama, speaking before a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, offered familiar assurances that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s long-term security was “ironclad.” But citing the rising political upheaval near Israel’s borders, he presented his peace plan as the best chance Israel has to avoid growing isolation.
“We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace,” Mr. Obama said. The world, he said, “is moving too fast.”
Administration officials said it would be up to Mr. Obama, during an economic summit in Paris
next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming United Nations vote, a prospect that would deeply embarrass Israel. Some French officials have already indicated that they are leaning toward such an endorsement.
“He basically said, ‘I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work
with, even America can’t save you,’ ” said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. The appearance by Mr. Obama on Sunday punctuated a tense week in which he and Mr. Netanyahu made their separate cases about Palestinian statehood to American audiences. Mr. Netanyahu will address the same group on Monday and will speak before Congress on Tuesday at the invitation of Republican lawmakers.
In his speech, Mr. Obama did not directly confront Mr. Netanyahu, who, while seated next to him at the White House last Friday, rejected the proposal Mr. Obama made a day earlier that
negotiations use Israel’s 1967 borders as a starting point. Mr. Obama’s decision to stick to his position, albeit with strong reassurances about America’s lasting bond with Israel, is a risky one politically. Mr. Obama is just starting a re-election campaign, and Republicans are doing what they can to present themselves to Jewish voters as more reliable protectors of Israel than the Democrats. Republicans moved swiftly to criticize his Middle East proposal. “The U.S. ought not to be trying to push Israel into a deal that’s not good for Israel,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Administration officials said Mr. Obama chose to confront Israel on the stalled peace negotiations after his aides calculated that given the historic upheaval under way in the Arab world, the United States and Israel would both benefit from being seen as taking bold steps toward ending the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.
As Mr. Obama himself pointed out, his theme in the speech last Thursday was not extraordinary. American presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have consistently instructed their foreign policy aides to pursue an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians using the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps, as a basis for talks.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, in fact, made such a proposal to the president of
the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in 2008, as the two sides rushed to complete a peace deal before Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert left office. But the 1967 border issue has always been privately understood, not spoken publicly, and certainly not publicly endorsed by a sitting American president.
When Mr. Obama did so last Thursday, he unleashed a furious response from Mr. Netanyahu. The prime minister’s office put out a statement in advance of his meeting with Mr. Obama the next day in which Mr. Netanyahu said he expected to hear certain assurances from the president. “That was Bibi over the top,” one administration official said Saturday, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname. “That’s not how you address the president of the United States.”
Mr. Obama addressed his critics on Sunday, saying, “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.” Mr. Obama did offer words of assurance. He repeated what the Israeli prime minister so objected to — the reference to pre-1967 borders — and challenged those who he said had “misrepresented” his position.
But, he said, “let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means.” His view, he said, is that “the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.” “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation,” he continued. “It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”
Mr. Netanyahu, in his critique of Mr. Obama’s earlier remarks, had ignored the “mutually agreed swaps” part of the president’s proposal. Mr. Obama’s remarks Sunday contrasted with those delivered a few minutes earlier by Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, who gave a no-holds-barred speech filled with applause lines for the assembled lobbying group delegates. Mr. Hoyer got several standing ovations, including a long one after he declared: “I believe in Palestinian statehood. But I stand strongly against one that is declared either unilaterally or by an international body,” in an allusion to the United Nations vote, which is slated for September. Administration officials argue that one way to try to derail the United Nations vote is to have a viable peace process under way between Israelis and Palestinians.
On Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu gave a more muted response to Mr. Obama’s speech than the one he issued last Thursday. “I share the president’s desire to advance peace, and I appreciate his efforts in the past and the present to achieve it,” he said in a statement. “I am determined to work together with President Obama to find ways to renew the peace negotiations.” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, commented on the speech by telephone from the West Bank city of Jericho: “I am waiting to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Does he accept the doctrine of two states on the 1967 line with agreed swaps or not? Before we hear that acceptance, we are just grinding water.”
V: American Israel Public Affairs Committee Speech (15 min - 26 min)
VI. Moment of Opportunity: President Obama on the Middle East & North Africa
(18 minutes - 25 minutes)