Obama on Israel, Continued

This is a supplement to Scott’s very perceptive post earlier today, on President Obama’s speech to AIPAC. I want to make one basic point about that speech, as well as the one Obama gave last week at the State Department.
It seems to me that the key passage in Obama’s AIPAC speech was this:

There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations. Since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday — not what I was reported to have said.

Classic Obama. Did someone quote him inaccurately? Not that I am aware of. The uproar over this part of Obama’s speech arose precisely from what he did say.

I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause) — so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

There are at least two key points here. One is that “Palestine” must be a contiguous state. As anyone with a map can tell you, this means that Israel will not be a contiguous state. The second, even more fundamental, is that is that the ultimate peace treaty will be “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
The 1967 lines are obviously unacceptable to Israel. That would mean a country that is only nine miles wide at its narrowest point, and that does not include, among other things, the Western Wall. Obama purports to think that this is of little significance, since adjustments will be made via “swaps.” But Israel starts way behind before it begins “swapping,” whereas the Palestinians start by holding all the cards. What, exactly, is Israel supposed to give up in order to regain some of its most historic sites, not to mention the defensible borders which it already holds?
One of the most basic questions in any negotiation is, Where do you begin? If you are a lawyer who has settled hundreds if not thousands of cases (like me, for example) it is blindingly obvious that the starting positions of the parties are of great importance. As happens so often with President Obama, one asks: can he possibly be such a simpleton? I am not sure. Obama was never a real lawyer, nor does he have much experience in politics, so maybe he really doesn’t understand how negotiations work. But that probably gives him too much credit: he can hardly be that dumb.
So what President Obama has proposed is antithetical to Israel’s interests, and therefore to the United States’ interests, because he wants Israel to begin negotiations from a deep hole that does not in any way reflect conditions on the ground. If this isn’t selling our ally down the river–and, thereby, selling out our own interests–what is?

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