Last Thursday (May 19), US President Barack Obama gave a very pro-Israel speech (the full text of his speech is available online here). In his speech Obama:
- Acknowledged Israel’s proper concerns about terrorist attacks
- Said Palestinians had walked away from talks
- Said Palestinian efforts to delegitimize Israel or unilaterally declare a state would not be successful
- Called on Hamas to reject terrorism
- Acknowledged an “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security
- Implicitly rejected the Palestinian call for a “right of return” (“…two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people”)
- Said Israel “must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat”
By comparison what he offered the Palestinians are relatively slim pickings. Obama:
- Acknowledged the humilities of living under occupation
- Criticized Israel’s continued building of settlements
So why is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so worked up that in the words of Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast he threw a “tantrum?”
He’s mainly worked up because Obama said “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Netanyahu lashed out bitterly, claiming that the ’67 borders are not defensible. The blogosphere (and the Wiesenthal Center) have jumped on this, resurrecting the saying that the ’67 borders are “Auschwitz borders.” Which was the stupidest thing the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban ever said. Eban said he regrets the moment he said that more than other moment in his life.
But why is this cause for Netanyahu’s outburst? The 1967 borders with land swaps is the configuration that has been at the base of every peace negotiation since 2000, including the ones led by his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the most recent ones under former PM Ehud Olmert. A long list of retired generals has said there is no problem with a defense based on the ’67 borders – Israel’s celebrated Air Force can certainly hold off any threat coming from Jordan long enough to allow Israel to send more troops and tanks wherever they are needed. And Obama even stressed that he wasn’t talking about just the ’67 borders, but rather those borders with “swaps,” acknowledging that Israel’s security and demographic reality has to be taken into account. And it’s still a good deal for Israel: we give a few thousand acres of the desert in the Negev and get in exchange thousands of acres of Jerusalem suburbs and settlement blocs.
Netanyahu is also incensed by the implication that we should talk to Hamas. Netanyahu claims it is impossible to hold negotiations with a government that includes Hamas, who deny Israel’s right to exist. As pointed out by JJ Goldberg of The Forward on his blog, “By that logic, the Palestinians can’t talk to an Israeli government that includes Yisrael Beiteinu, which openly rejects peace, and HaBayit HaYehudi-The Jewish Home, which claims the West Bank is part of Israel.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s histrionics may play well with the Likudniks at home, who hate Barack Obama. But does it make sense to spit in the face of the President of the United States when he makes a pro-Israel speech? What if Obama gets so pissed off that he decides Israel is completely recalcitrant, and he supports the PA’s bid for statehood at the UN in September? If the UN vote on Palestinian statehood goes 191 to 1, the pressure and isolation on Israel will be horrible for those of us living here.
I’ve quoted this Talmudic saying before, and no doubt I’ll quote it again: “tafasta meruba lo tafasta.” “Grab too much and you grab nothing.” We can feel we’re entitled to something but if the entire rest of the world disagrees, we have to deal with the fact that we’re not going to get it.
Even what Obama proposed is a LONG way from becoming reality. Will Hamas renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist? Will the PA – Hamas deal hold together? There are a lot of reasons to have doubts that the Palestinians can live up to the conditions Barack Obama laid out. There is absolutely no need for Israel to insist on unreasonable conditions that make it even less likely we will achieve true peace anytime soon. It will be hard enough as is.
Reb Barry, in Jerusalem eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah who will bring peace to this troubled land…