A Guest Post by AKUS
Obama’s May 19 pre-AIPAC speech at the U.S. State Department was not as bad for Israel as many have suggested, though I do believe it showed his naiveté about Islam and the Arabs once again. He wasted most of the time he spent on outreach to the Arab world (e.g., offering to forgive $1 billion in debt to Egypt) with his switch to the most delicate issues of the I/P conflict, which drowned out all the rest. It seems clear that a majority of Israelis would actually agree with his statement that:
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.
It is also noteworthy that Obama carefully did NOT use the term “1967 borders” but “1967 lines” (repeated in front of AIPAC), terms lazily overlooked in most of the reporting of his speech:
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.
For example, the Guardian, using one of its reliable Israeli flacks, Carlo Strenger, had the following which illustrates the careless use of the word “borders” by Israelis:
His coalition partners are at least as right-leaning: engaging with the Palestinians on the basis of the 1967 borders and a compromise on Jerusalem would lead to an open rebellion by his own party, and the dissolution of his coalition. Add to this that Netanyahu genuinely believes that the 1967 borders are indefensible, and you see that all he can do is continue stalling the peace process as he has since he came to power in 2009.
On the other hand, the Washington Post was careful to characterize the Green Line as the boundaries in place on the eve of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Note that the WP correctly refers to “boundaries”, not “borders”, and does not reference the Palestinians or Palestine in this context – because they were not part of the 1967 context.
Reports of Saeb Erekat’s comments indicate that he, too, referred to the “1967 lines”, not “1967 borders”, even as he rejected negotiations with Netanyahu. It is ironical that the even the Guardian reported that Erekat accurately referred to “1967 lines” while Strenger carelessly referred to “1967 borders”. Nevertheless, despite Erekat’s usage, the Guardian posted a report that included Erekat’s statement with a link that used the term “1967 borders”:
Erekat said Netanyahu’s statements make it clear the Israeli leader is not a partner for peace, suggesting there is no point in returning to negotiations.
“I don’t think we can talk about a peace process with a man who says the 1967 lines are an illusion, that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, undivided, and he does not want a single [Palestinian] refugee to go back,” Erekat said. “What is left to negotiate?”
(Erekat’s comment is also available on many other web sites and it seems clear that he used the word “lines”, not “borders”).
Netanyahu’s response to Obama was firm, but polite. He, too, carefully referred to the “1967 lines” not “1967 borders”. He did not lecture the President, and he did not turn his back on him or the USA. Of course, the Palestinians, reliably, did both especially after Obama’s AIPAC speech today, in which he “corrected” some of his earlier statements and which is well worth reading in full. Hamas, in particular, has once again made its intentions clear in a manner which even Obama cannot overlook: Hamas: Obama will fail in forcing us to recognize Israel (Ha’aretz, May 22nd, 2011) . However, even though Obama admitted on May 19th that “Palestinians have walked away from talks” he seems unable to accept that if there is a word for “compromise” in the Arab lexicon it is not often taken out of the closet and used in public.
Bibi also pointed out that, like it or not, just as Obama referred to Arab demographic changes on the West Bank, the right-wing in Israel has accomplished certain “facts on the ground” which will have to be taken into account in any border agreements that might finally emerge:
The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.
In fact, if we can believe the Palileaks, the Palestinian leadership is well aware of the impossibility of setting the clock back – the new suburbs around Jerusalem will stay part of Israel in any future state, and most likely Ariel will as well.
The point I would like to raise is this: Israeli spokesmen (and women) must stop falling into the lazy verbal trap of referring to the 1967 “borders”. There were no “1967 borders” – there were 1948 armistice lines. In particular, the 1948 armistice line on Israel’s eastern side was with Jordan, and there was no Palestinian “state” or “entity” that existed in the “West Bank”. In fact, the Jordanians occupied what Netanyahu, for example, is careful to refer to as Judea and Samaria. The “West Bank”, as defined today, was only that section of the entire area west of the Jordan River occupied by Jordan after the 1948 war.
In fact, Israel should make it clear that the Palestinians and their supporters should not be allowed to have things both ways. If, by “1967 borders”, as the common usage has it, they mean that the clock should be set back to the situation that existed in 1967, they cannot “cherry-pick” the bits of the pre-6 Day War situation they like and ignore the bits they do not like. A true return to 1967 would have Jordan in charge of the West bank and Egypt in charge of Gaza, and no “Palestinian state” to be discussed.
Israel may or may not accept this possibility, but it is no more unreal than the idea that Israel will go back to the 1948 armistice lines, the millions of grandchildren of those who fled in 1948 will kick Israelis out of their home as they return to what was never theirs AND the Palestinians will then form a third state on borders which three times proved an open invitation to invasion by Arab armies. That being said, lazy use of the term “1967 borders’ by Israeli spokesmen confers a legitimacy on the idea that there always was a Palestinian state on the West Bank, even in the face of the obvious fact that this was never the case.
Words have meanings, and we saw over the almost endlessly wrangling with the Egyptians over the last hundred yards at Taba how important the exact definition of “borders” is. Lazy, careless references to “1967 borders” help the Palestinians create a false case among those in the international community too lazy, ignorant, or politically motivated, to understand what the reality was until June 5th, 1967.