For Israel-watchers, the newsiest bit of Pres. Obama’s Mideast speech:
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, 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.”
Reactions — first, from the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler:
Why is this important? Palestinian have long demanded that the border that existed before the 1967 war be the basis of negotiations, and the Israeli government refused. This was a key reason why the talks never really got off the ground in the past two years. Netanyahu has also said he would never remove Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley, and Obama said there must be a “full and phased withdrawal of israeli militray forces.”
Obama prefaced this section with a new and potentially important concept: “While the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel.” He is equating the two in a way that may make Israelis uncomfortable.
Leave no doubt, these words will send shockwaves in the Middle East.
Bibi Netanyahu is also not overly thrilled, I think, but also not shocked or upset. The 1967 lines have always been the basis of negotiations — this is not new. But I’m sure Bibi doesn’t appreciate lectures about challenges to Israel’s democratic and Jewish nature. I hope he’s listening, though.
The speech, which focused mostly on the Arab democracy movements in the Arab world, marked the first time a U.S. president formally declared that the pre-Six Day War borders should form the basis of negotiations.
Simon Wiesenthal Center:
SWC ISRAEL SHOULD REJECT A RETURN TO 1967 ‘AUSCHWITZ’ BORDERS
The Simon Wiesenthal Center commended President Obama’s call for further democratization in the Arab world but expressed deep disappointment that he called for Israel’s return to the pre-June 1967 borders.
“We welcome the President’s recognition of Israel’s security needs and that Hamas cannot be a partner in the peace process, but a call to a return to 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations, even with “land swaps” is a non-starter, when at least half of the Palestinian rulers are committed to Israel’s destruction”, said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, founder and dean and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“The road to peace has been clear for a long time – direct negotiations between parties who recognize each other’s legitimacy,” they concluded.
As for the “Auschwitz borders” bit, Bradley Burston puts the reference in context (back in 2007):
There was a time when the mention of 1967 lines was met with nothing more than one version or other of Abba Eban’s 1969 comment to the German newspaper Der Spiegel:
“We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.”
Many of those who cite the “Auschwitz borders” quote as a bulwark against giving up all occupied territory, conveniently forget that Abba Eban was an outspoken and unabashed dove.
Many of those who oppose territorial compromise of all kinds turn a blind eye to Abba Eban’s comment that an Israel which refuses to consider ceding land is “tearing up its own birth certificate.
“Israel’s birth is intrinsically and intimately linked with the idea of sharing territory and sovereignty,” Eban declared.