This week Secretary of State John Kerry enthusiastically welcomed a proposal by the Arab League, led by Qatar’s prime minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The proposal calls for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, which were characterized as indefensible by two major American military studies and dubbed the “Auschwitz borders” by former dovish Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban. It was widely reported that Al-Thani “cited the possibility of ‘comparable,’ mutually agreed and ‘minor’ land swaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Al-Thani thereby took an even less forthcoming position than the one taken by President Obama in a speech on May 19, 2011, when he stated: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps….” That speech aroused such protest and fears for Israel’s security and survival that three days later on May 22, in a speech to AIPAC, Obama appeared to somewhat amend his words:
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. 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. 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.
This was taken to mean that, if such a deal were reached, Obama would support Israel retaining somewhat more substantial territory, including settlement blocs.
Yet, with Kerry’s endorsement of Al-Thani’s proposal, the administration takes a stance even less favorable to Israel than Obama’s original, May 19 position, which Middle East analyst Robert Satloff called at the time “a major departure from long-standing U.S. policy.”
Qatar—a backer of radical Sunni movements—is of course a strange champion of “peace.” Last October the Emir of Qatar visited Gaza and promised major financial aid to Hamas—committed by its charter to Israel’s destruction and officially designated a terrorist organization by the United States. This week the Wall Street Journal reported on Qatar’s active support for a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Syria.
As an Israeli diplomatic source told Haaretz:
The prime minister’s advisers are not keen about the Arab League’s announcement. Netanyahu and his advisers believe it would have been better had this announcement not been made…. The fact that Kerry stood beside Qatar’s prime minister while he was reading the announcement increased Netanyahu’s aides’ suspicions toward Kerry.
Is this new push to pressure Israel into perilous withdrawals coming from Kerry himself, or from Obama? According to veteran Israeli journalist Shimon Shiffer:
the Israeli side sees some tension between the White House and the State Department. In other words, they understand that Obama has expressed no interest in resuming the negotiations. The American president, my sources tell me, does not believe—as opposed to Kerry—that solving the conflict will solve all of the region’s troubles.
That account is consistent with a statement quoted earlier this week from a “senior Israeli diplomatic source” that “Obama understands today that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in reaching an agreement with Israel.”
But even if Kerry is freelancing, it is little short of grotesque that the administration—or whatever part of it—is orchestrating another pressure campaign on Israel, against the will of its elected leaders, precisely as threats are mounting on its northern and southern borders and from Iran.
The ultimate responsibility, of course, is Obama’s—not least for letting his May 22, 2011 words to AIPAC be exposed as so much smoke and mirrors.
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