When Krauthammer is ‘poisonously disingenuous’

President Obama, as is now well know, last week recommended advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by starting negotiations with “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” It’s been the U.S. policy for years, and even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed support for the idea.

A few days later, Obama followed up on this in a speech at AIPAC, explaining, ” 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. That’s what ‘mutually agreed-upon swaps’ means.”

Somehow, Charles Krauthammer manages to disagree: “It means nothing of the sort. ‘Mutually’ means both parties have to agree. And if one side doesn’t? Then, by definition, you’re back to the 1967 lines.”

That’s not even close to being right. MJ Rosenberg says Krauthammer is lying, and that backs up the charge very well.

“Mutually agreed” means mutually agreed. If, in the course of negotiation, Israelis say “we want all the land” and Palestinians say “no, we want all the land,” the negotiations collapse because there is no mutual agreement.

But that is not what Krauthammer writes. He writes that if there is no agreement, the ultra-Palestinian position — full return to the ’67 lines — goes into effect, as if that is the default position.

Of course not. Without “mutual agreement,” the status quo remains in place. That is why Israel possesses all the territories now, because no mutual agreement has been reached. According to Krauthammer’s formulation, the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem would be Palestinian by now.

This point applies to every single issue dividing the two sides…. If either side is unhappy with what the other side insists on, it walks out and the status quo obtains. Nothing can be imposed on Israel unless one believes that Israeli negotiators will sell out their own country.

Time‘s Joe Klein calls Krauthammer “poisonously disingenuous,” a “devious propagandist,” and “quite the scoundrel in this case.”

Krauthammer’s column is instructive, though, because it highlights just how dishonest the right’s attacks have become. We’ve actually reached the point at which conservatives want to parse the meaning of “mutually agreed,” and change it into a phrase that means something entirely different.

It should be necessary to remind the right of this, but if there are negotiations, and a proposal fails to secure mutually agreed support, then the status quo remains in place. It’s not complicated; it’s just what the words mean.

If Krauthammer doesn’t understand this, he really ought to pick up an editor or get out of the column-writing business.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.