Last week brought a continuance of severe drought conditions to Texas and the Middle East.
The drought in Texas is caused by too much heat combined with too little rain. The drought in the Middle East is caused by too much political fear combined with too little vision, imagination and leadership. The drought in Texas won’t be broken until we have several weeks of soaking rains. The drought in the Middle East may not be broken until Palestinians, Israelis, and all of their many supporters, help plant, water, fertilize and grow new leaders —- leaders far less burdened by someone else’s view of history and far more interested in starting their own.
Easy for me to say — there are more than a few on the Palestinian side that don’t want to wait past September to embrace their statehood. There are more than a few on the Israeli side who don’t care if the Palestinians have to wait one hundred more Septembers. There are even more than a few on the Israeli side who have stopped caring. Palestinian issues are somewhere behind their choice of television shows to watch.
Israelis live a Kafkaesque reality, a normal abnormal. Today’s forecast: Cloudy with a slight chance of missiles and expanded settlement blocs followed by soccer at 8. Palestinian issues are an annoyance, but not so much so that they disrupt Israelis’ daily lives. The West Bank and East Jerusalem are, for the majority of Israelis, a distant place on a map more than an interesting place to incorporate into their travel or business plans. It’s the Palestinians that are vastly more affected economically, politically, as well as socially, by the Israeli security and travel restrictions variety pack.
Despite Israeli Prime Historian – Fear Division and Prime American Sounding Speechmaker Extraordinaire Benjamin Netanyahu — he also moonlights as the Prime Minister and Presidential Lecturer — announcing to Congress on Tuesday that peace with the Palestinians is a vital interest of Israel’s, most Israelis would likely view reducing the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) influence as a more important vital interest. Their high unemployment — studying Torah is, rather unsurprisingly, not reflected in G.D.P. figures — and military service avoidance rates, plus their control over who can be considered a Jew, marry within the Jewish faith, or qualify to make that month’s most racist statement, have much more of a “real world” impact. (The logic? Yes, it’s not good that most of the known universe doesn’t like how Israel has dealt with Palestinian issues, but I care more about what the ultra-Orthodox are dictating to me, taking out of my pocket and not contributing.)
However, in an effort to more clearly explain one of the key Israeli and Palestinian issues, and increase my volume of “Dude, what Palestinian planet did you land on?” and “Why don’t you Jews stop making excuses for stealing our land?” emails, here goes:
Is all of the tsuris about Obama’s recent comments about 1967 lines justified?
Many in our Jewish tribe should take their tsuris with a side of humble pie. Although it may not seem that way based on media reports and email volume, no major Jewish organization criticized Obama’s reference to Israel beginning its Palestinian negotiations based on 1967 lines. (The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Mort Klein’s pet toy, did predictably slam Obama and led an aggressive and highly offensive charge, but if we were to assign a percentage to ZOA’s influence over Israeli and American policy, Avigdor Lieberman’s likelihood of ever being considered wise or escaping indictment for financial misdealings, or Hamas’s contribution to Middle East peace, our total number would still hover close to zero.)
First, the math: Approximately 6% of Jewish Israelis live in the West Bank on land outside of the 1967 borders. Of the 350,000 Jews in the West Bank, around 270,000 live in what are widely referred to as “settlement blocs.” These “blocs” are fairly close to Israel’s original borders. Most of the other 80,000 Jews lived in widely scattered (mostly small) settlements, frequently within predominately Arab communities. Most are there for economic more than religious reasons. In any type of “land swap,” it is these 80,000 people who are the most vulnerable to removal. (All of the numbers are approximations as the official Haredi Jewish head-counters have yet to complete their Jewish disqualification tasks.)
My favorite explanation of (some of) the 1967 “line” backround, and the specifics, comes courtesy of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). (You can send your hateful emails to them, I am but a messenger.)
From AJC : “Like all his predecessors since 1967, President Obama reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the principle of ‘secure and recognized borders.’ But he was the first President to state, explicitly rather than implicitly, that these borders should be based on the 1967 lines. However, in his remarks at the AIPAC conference President Obama argued that in his ‘Winds of Change’ speech he said ‘publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.’ He explained that what he had proposed ‘means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. 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 forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.’ The concept of ‘mutually agreed swaps’ was used previously by President Clinton, but the Clinton proposals have never become an official U.S. policy. He himself said they would not be binding on his successor when he would leave office in January 2001. Indeed, his proposals were taken off the table as soon as the President ended his term in the White House. Clinton’s and Obama’s language—’mutually agreed swaps’—implies swaps of land in Israel within the 1967 boundaries in exchange for land (settlement blocs) in the West Bank. The term used by Bush—’mutually agreed changes’—does not necessarily entail land swaps; it could imply, though the Palestinians will certainly oppose such an interpretation, only the retention of certain parts of the West Bank by Israel, based on a mutual Israeli-Palestinian agreement. AJC has long supported a negotiated two-state settlement, and welcomed the president’s reaffirmation of this goal.’
Ah, but there are other participants in our explanation/analysis rave…..
From the Zionist Organization of America: “President Obama is either extraordinarily naïve or extraordinarily hostile to the Jewish state of Israel, despite his claims of commitment to Israel’s security. One cannot claim to care about a neighbor’s young children while renting out rooms to child predators.” ( Perhaps Mort’s calm reflection indicates his desire to get C.P.S. involved in further negotiating sessions?)
And what would an explanation be without AIPAC weighing in and playing the good host by delaying their comments for three days, all the better to ensure the President shows up and delivers your Sunday morning keynote?
From AIPAC: “AIPAC appreciates President Obama’s speech…. in which he reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the shared values that define both nations. In particular, we appreciate his statement that the U.S. does not expect Israel to withdraw to the boundaries that existed between Israel and Jordan in 1967 before the Six Day War. We also commend President Obama for his explicit condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and his recognition that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a group that denies its fundamental right to exist. We also welcome the president’s reaffirmation of his long-standing commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
(Important interruption: For those that aspire to introduce the President to an audience that you worry may not be that receptive, conclude your introduction by mentioning something everyone supports. In this case, AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg welcomed Obama with a rousing reference to his elimination of Osama bin Laden. Osama, of course, was interested in 1967 lines only as a demarcation point for eliminating all of the Jewish people located to the east of them.)
On Monday, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, further commented, “In a world which is demonstrably on the side of the Palestinians and Arabs – where Israel stands virtually alone – the United States has a special role to play. When the United States is even-handed, Israel is automatically at a disadvantage, tilting the diplomatic playing field overwhelmingly toward the Palestinians and Arabs.”
(While he urged America to keep our disagreements with Israel private, he evidently felt it was acceptable to keep his disagreements with Obama more public, especially since Obama was now 4,000 miles away fighting volcanic ash on his way to England.)
From J Street: “J Street commends President Obama for his important speech today outlining his approach to the changing Middle East and stating that efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution are ‘more urgent than ever.’ We are grateful that the President reiterated that America’s friendship with Israel is rooted in shared values and that the United States maintains an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. We share, however, the President’s deep concern that the status quo today between Israel and the Palestinians is unsustainable, and that ‘the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.’
(J Street could have written most of Obama’s remarks.)
From Americans for Peace Now (APN): “Peace for Israel requires a Palestinian government with the ability to implement its program in both the West Bank and Gaza. A unified Palestinian government will also make Hamas genuinely answerable to its people – something that is more likely to lead to a change in behavior, or a loss of domestic credibility, than U.S. sanctions could ever do. You and I know that the Palestinians effort to seek UN recognition for their state is not an alternative to a negotiated peace agreement. Moreover, Palestinian leaders have said they would be willing to suspend this campaign if real progress is made toward peace. The most important thing Congress can do right now is to get behind a meaningful peace push.”
( I like any group that is able to marry its message to virtually any world issue and get noticed. Who doesn’t want peace? The 1967 line contretemps aren’t even addressed in this p.r. release. But since APN supports a Hamas and Fatah merger prior to a final peace agreement, they managed to get that messaging out by rolling it into another newsworthy issue. Unfortunately, one of the key Palestinian leaders in a new government, Salam Fayyad, just suffered a mild heart attack while attending his son’s University of Texas graduation. Let’s see what APN can do with that.)
Then there is Fatah. Salam Fayyad has indicated that Fatah recognizes that Israel has a legitimate security concern, one that has been increased by Fatah’s merger with Hamas, a group widely seen as a terrorist organization. If the Palestinians want to start negotiating based on 1967 lines then Israel has to feel safe to do so. So enter the calm voice of reason.
From Fatah and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas: “The new government would consist of independent figures who are not affiliated with any political factions. The Israelis, and sometimes the Americans, have misunderstood the upcoming government. They mistakenly think that it’s a Hamas government. This is not a Hamas or Fatah government. This is my government and it will follow my strategy and policy.”
(His timing was somewhat prescient, as only a few hours before he spoke, several Hamas leaders once again trotted out their “never recognize Israel” and “never renounce violence” lines, consistent verbal lines much more accepted within different parts of the Palestinian community than the much discussed 1967 lines.)
Now to a key Israeli politician practicing her talking points in light of her stated belief that Israel’s existential threats are both internal as well as external and that Netanyahu is not sincere in expediting the resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli issues.
From Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni: “Two dramatic decisions (must be made). First, the State of Israel should be as a Jewish homeland….(that is not) given away to the ultra-Orthodox parties. The second decision Israel must make is to adopt the two-state solution. (This would not be a) favor to the U.S. president or anyone else. It is not an anti-Israeli policy – it is vital for Israel’s interests.”
From “Haaretz,” one of Israel’s leading newspapers and leading supporters of the “time is not on our side” school of thought:
“American Jews have been dragged over the past few days into the controversy between their government and Israel’s government, and that is neither to their benefit nor to the benefit of the State of Israel. On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention and candidly laid out his ideas for a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Unlike the many American politicians who turn Jewish organizational conferences into election rallies, Obama did not make do with rousing declarations about America’s commitment to Israel’s security and to the unity of Jerusalem. Though he is already thinking about his upcoming presidential election campaign, Obama looked the Jewish community in the eye and told the the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to that same convention, Obama presented the June 4, 1967 borders, with mutually agreed adjustments, as a key to the two-state solution. The president also adopted the position of his predecessor, George W. Bush, that Jewish population centers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must be taken into account.
Obama stressed that only a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines can ensure that Israel will continue to be a Jewish and democratic state and prevent unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly. Yesterday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, backed Obama, as did the other members of the Quartet. The refusal by Netanyahu and his political allies to recognize the 1967 borders as a starting point leads permanent-status negotiations into a dead end. From there, the road is short to violent confrontation with the Palestinians, diplomatic isolation and perhaps even economic sanctions.
The large Jewish peace camp in the United States must support the (American) president and reject political activists who have turned Israel’s fate into a ball on America’s domestic political court. The time has come for the Jews of New York and Illinois to stand beside their worried brethren in Jerusalem and Sderot who have welcomed Obama’s message and are hoping for it to become reality. Between loyalty to Obama’s way and loyalty to Netanyahu’s way, they must (support Obama and ) choose loyalty to the future of the State of Israel.”
So there. Now you know almost everything there is to know about 1967 lines and some of the surrounding issues and opinions of others. And when you want to feel more pessimistic or optimistic, you know who to write or call. And that isn’t me.
At least until the next article when we explore the validity of Netanyahu’s concept of ”defensible borders.” We’ll consider the exigencies of modern warfare, potential security alliances, and the impact Israeli actions and inactions can have on the motivations of potential adversaries. That all leads to a conclusion that may cause you to use your emailing fingers.