From a purely political perspective, perhaps the most interesting thing about the right’s reaction to President Obama’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa was the speed with which conservatives reversed course.
During and immediately after the speech, the right’s message was pretty straightforward: Obama’s remarks could have easily been delivered by George W. Bush, which reinforces how great the Republican administration’s foreign policy really was, since it’s been embraced by a Democratic president. It was a dubious argument, at best, but that was the line.
A short while later, the conservative message changed. All of a sudden, Obama’s speech wasn’t like Bush’s at all, but rather, was a radical, anti-Israel vision that must be forcefully rejected.
It was right about that time, watching the right’s abrupt U-turn, we were reminded that conservatives’ Obama-related outrage need not be tethered to reason or reality.
Apparently, the most contentious point yesterday — or, at least, the point Republicans want to pretend was contentious — was one 30-word sentence: “We believe 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.”
I take this to mean that Israel would retain its major settlement blocs; that it would retain the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and that it would take West Bank land needed to thicken it at its most narrow point, in exchange for land adjacent to the Gaza Strip and the southern West Bank. I also interpret the saying “mutually agreed upon” to mean, well, “mutually agreed upon.” In other words, these boundaries would not be set without Israel’s approval.
I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu is interpreting this as a major policy shift, and I understand that much of the media is going along with this interpretation. For what it’s worth, I don’t see a huge gap in the way these two Presidents framed the core issue.
That’s because there is no huge gap on this issue.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of U.S. policy in Israel, and I realize that granular-level details matter. If Obama emphasizes the wrong syllable on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s likely to be noticed and scrutinized.
But as near as I can tell, the president yesterday articulated the same position American administrations have taken for decades. Ah, Charles Krauthammer says, that may be, but no president has “ever before publicly and explicitly endorsed the 1967 lines.”
In other words, Obama said something scandalous by taking a U.S. policy that’s existed for a generation and saying that it’s U.S. policy.
I’m glad the right could clear this up for us.