Talking past one another

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama met at some length today at the White House — their discussion lasted longer than had been scheduled — after which the two spoke to reporters. As the NYT put it, Netanyahu endorsed Obama’s ultimate goals for peace, but “promptly listed a series of nonnegotiable conditions.”

Netanyahu ruled out negotiations with a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas, ruled out the return of Palestinian refugees on Israeli soil, and of course ruled out 1967 borders, which he called “indefensible.”

But since President Obama did not actually call for a return of those borders, we’re left with leaders talking past one another.

[Edward Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt] disputed the notion that Obama was calling for a hard-and-fast return to 1967 borders.

“I think it’s a shame” that this is getting misinterpreted, Walker said on MSNBC. “[Obama] never called for a return to the 1967 borders. He talked about the 1967 borders as the basis for talking … a starting point, not where we would wind up.”

Pummeled with questions about Netanyahu’s comments Friday afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the 1967 borders have been widely agreed to by all parties involved in the negotiations, as well as previous administrations, as the starting place for negotiations.

“There’s this crazy mischaracterization of what [the President] said here,” Carney said. “The borders should start from the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

“Crazy” certainly seems like an apt adjective. To hear the right tell it, the president made it seem as if the U.S. simply wants to turn back the clock. In reality, Obama did what people involved in the process have always done — identified these borders as a starting point for talks, with the understanding that they would be altered to account for Israeli settlements in the West Bank with land swaps — only the president talked to the world as if we’re all grown-ups.

Perhaps he should have known better.

To ignore the nuances is to play a misleading game.