“Let me be clear,” President Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday. “As I have always said, the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state will cause the borders of Israel to move a bit. They might bear some vague resemblance to the 1967 borders. Only then will the three new nations of North Israel, Palestine, and South Israel be able to Win The Future, as the descendants of Palestinian refugees come out of the shadows to find a path to citizenship. We must reject the false choice offered by those who insist on repeating my own words verbatim.”
He didn’t use those exact words, but I thought I’d paraphrase and throw in some of his favorite rhetorical flourishes. I’m surprised he hasn’t proposed a U.S. taxpayer subsidy for a solar-powered high-speed rail line to connect North Israel and South Israel through that contiguous Palestinian state.
The AIPAC crowd was a bit restless. Either the venue is haunted, or the crowd threw a smattering of boos at Obama. By the time the speech was over, they seemed generally satisfied that the walkback from Obama’s mind-blowingly foolish State Department foreign policy speech was well under way.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also seems tentatively satisfied he set Obama straight, telling the Associated Press that his disagreements with Obama “have been blown way out of proportion.” That’s better than dealing with a Palestinian state blown way out of proportion.
Obama assured the AIPAC audience, “Even while we may sometimes disagree, as friends sometime will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.” However, in his State Department speech, he made a point of saying that “Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.” So which is it? Are we unshakably committed to an ironclad determination to watch Israel defend itself, by itself? What would be the reaction if an American president made the same statement about, say, France – right after telling them to swap “land for peace” with the Muslim districts where the French government has more or less abandoned its authority?
This is more than a matter of semantics. In his State Department speech, the President could just have easily declared that the United States would join in the defense of Israel against any assault, so Arab opportunists looking for the right moment to erase the Jewish state should stop wasting their time. Obama spoke as if Israel is one of many equally legitimate and well-governed democracies, engaging in a spirited attempt to resolve their differences peacefully. Someone who sees them as a lonely stable democracy surrounded by hateful predators would not go out of his way to demand they re-draw their borders to appease terrorists, while loudly declaring they’ll be on their own if hostilities ensue. It’s foolish even when taken as hollow rhetoric.
For an example of contrast, consider Congressman Allen West of Florida, who declared in his CPAC keynote speech, “I shall never let Israel down.” Fewer words, more meaning.
I suspect West would be equally unwilling to let France, Luxembourg, or Australia down, but he didn’t need to say that, because none of those countries is surrounded by hostile neighbors who want to wipe it off the map.
Speaking of Allen West, he wasn’t a big fan of that Obama State Department speech, and it doesn’t sound like he’s buying the backpedal. “President Obama has not stood for Israel or the Jewish people,” he said in an email statement, “and has not made it clear where the United States will stand when Palestine attempts to gain recognition of statehood by the United Nations. The President should focus on the real obstacle to security: the Palestinian leadership, and its ultimate goal to eliminate Israel and the Jewish people.”
West’s statement was issued before the President’s address to AIPAC, where he actually did cover the U.N. issue. Obama said “no vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state, and the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the U.N., or in any international forum.” That’s a prediction, not a declaration that the United States is implacably opposed to any such effort. Also, when are we going to start standing up against effort to single out Israel in United Nations councils? That happens almost every week.
People who talk like Allen West don’t have to spend the next week insisting that everyone heard them wrong the first time. Diplomatic ambiguity has its uses, but let me be blunt: the rulers of Palestine have been shown far too much ambiguity already. That’s part of the problem. They have every reason to think intransigence is their path to success, because the world has not firmly insisted that peace and self-determination require meeting conditions they have fallen far short of. They heard what Obama said about the 1967 borders, and they see it as a concession to their position. They also think it didn’t go far enough, even when taken at face value.
Obama is therefore in the position of having to climb down from an outrageous concession that wasn’t good enough for the people he was trying to satisfy. I guess that’s as good a working description of his vaunted “smart power” as any. For a supposedly articulate, commanding speaker, this President says an awful lot of things no one else can understand.