President Obama spoke to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington yesterday, and given his speech on the Middle East a few days prior, there was arguably more interest in his remarks than there otherwise would have been.
But if the president’s detractors were hoping to see Obama back down from the positions he took last week, they were left disappointed. The president is sticking to his guns.
He noted early on that even when the United States and Israel disagree, “the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.”
And what of the 1967 borders as the starting point for peace talks? Obama reminded his audience that his vision is based on “broad outlines [that] have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians since at least the Clinton administration.” He added that he “wasn’t surprised” by the controversy surrounding his remarks, but argued they needed to be stated anyway because the status quo is “unsustainable” and “the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination.”
“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.
“[I]t was my reference to the 1967 lines — with mutually agreed swaps — that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means.
“By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. (Applause.) That’s what ‘mutually agreed-upon swaps’ means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. (Applause.) It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people — (applause) — and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. (Applause.)
“If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. (Applause.) The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”
Josh Marshall was impressed with Obama, lauding him for committing to policies “that will secure Israel’s future, even at the expense of opportunistic attacks and political controversy.” Philip Weiss, who writes about the Middle East from a progressive Jewish perspective, called it “a historic speech, maybe the most remarkable speech he has ever given.”
And I also liked MJ Rosenberg’s take: “Politely and nicely, he stuck it to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by explaining that Bibi’s faux-outrage over the ’67 lines is utterly bogus. This was critical. He showed, citing history, that there is absolutely nothing new about saying that peace must be built on the ’67 lines with modifications (made up by land swaps). And AIPAC accepted it, even applauded it. The right-wing meme was destroyed, as much by AIPAC’s reaction as by Obama’s explanation.”
The conventional wisdom was that Obama would go out of his way to avoid even mentioning 1967 in his address to AIPAC. The president did the opposite — making his case, standing firm, correcting Netanyahu, and by all appearances, winning over his audience.