Obama's Monkey Wrench Diplomacy
According to a front-page story in Friday's New York Times, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aware before Thursday's presidential speech that President Obama would bring up Israel's pre-1967 borders as the basis for peace settlement negotiations with Palestin-ians.
A furious Netanyahu raised Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the phone and is said to have "demanded" that the president drop the pre-1967 border issue from the speech. The president chose to ignore our historic ally's demand and included the reference anyway.
In what was an otherwise well-received speech, one which encouraged Middle Eastern states to promote democracy and personal and economic freedom as goals for the so called Arab Spring uprisings, for the president to then connect peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as dependent on Israel pulling back to pre-1967 borders, seemed awfully insensitive, and potentially destructive to the already strained relations between the Obama administration and Israel.
From a purely logical standpoint, if the president now believes that the future of the Middle East depends on the cultivation of free and democratic states, (essentially the same position of the Bush administration, and the heart of the then-president's second inaugural address), is it not incumbent upon Palestinians to behave in a free and democratic way?
Free people in Democratic nations don't generally back terrorists intent on the destruction of their neighboring states. Nor can two-party negotiations begin in good faith when those on one side, in this case the Palestinians, don't acknowledge Israel's right to exist. Even the president made this point in Thursday's speech.
Obama also said, "while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel." Well, Israel isn't secure, so how is there any basis for negotiation?
Why would the Israelis consider pulling back from what they consider a buffer zone of defense before Palestinians renounce the terrorists among them and make some type of promise to the Israelis that the terrorist attacks will end?
The answer, as Netanyahu stated in no uncertain terms to the American president in their Friday afternoon news conference: Israel will not pull back to pre-1967 borders. It will not accommodate Palestinian refugees, nor does it have much faith in the stalled peace process until the terrorism stops and the people of Israel feel safe.
Not a huge defender of Mr. Obama, even I felt somewhat uncomfortable watching as the elder statesman from Israel delivered an eloquent lecture to the young American president on Israeli geography, history and current events.
From other Friday New York Times reports, Obama may have introduced the idea of pre-1967 borders hoping to satisfy one of the Palestinian demands of Israel so that two-party talks could resume. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is said to prefer these negotiations to an upcoming United Nations vote on a Palestinian state.
The point is that one wants to be sympathetic with all presidents who wade into this mess. Efforts to help negotiate a settled peace between Israel and Palestine are wildly complicated, are fraught with peril, and have to date proved unsuccessfully elusive to a host of American leaders. But why is that? In the end, the Middle East peace process is dogged by one basic fact: continued and ongoing Palestinian terrorism.
Netanyahu understands this to his core, as do the Israeli people. They know there will never be lasting peace for Israel until that threat of terror ends.
So when the Israeli prime minister got Hillary Clinton on the phone Thursday morning, one has to assume he said to our secretary of state that under no circumstances would Israel agree to pre-1967 borders. I can just hear Netanyahu asking Clinton, why would the American president bring the subject up knowing Israel would never agree to it?
Obama came away from Friday afternoon's joint press conference with Netanyahu once again looking inexperienced and foolish. Nothing was gained by his call for pre-1967 borders. It was unnecessary, and bound to cause increased friction between the United States and Israel. It threw a monkey wrench into American efforts to help the peace process between two Middle Eastern antagonists.
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines and is a regular contributor to The Pilot and PineStraw magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story