Is President Obama using his European trip to pressure Israel to accept a peace deal based on the Jewish State’s pre-war borders? Days after the President claimed to be misunderstood it now appears that he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are backtracking on his previous backtrack and incredibly actually seeking support for a negotiated settlement based on what Abba Eban called “the Auschwitz borders” (because they left Israel vulnerable to extinction) and presumes that Israel will be forced to absorb hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
According to the Guardian, the president “will seek a joint Middle East agreement with David Cameron, insisting that a Palestinian state should be based on pre-1967 borders.” It may be that the notoriously anti-Israel Guardian is repeating speculation. But at a joint press conference with Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said they agree with Obama’s original statement that, as the International Business Times put it, “any future negotiations between Israel and Palestine must be based on the borders that existed prior to the 1967 war.”
“Time is running out for a two-state solution and the initiative must be seized now,” Hague said.
Rather than restating the President’s clarification, Clinton helpfully added: “Now is the time, in this period of great upheaval, there is an opportunity to come to a successful outcome.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel will no longer seek to appease the international community by granting territory or additional concessions to the Palestinians.
This shift in approach is long overdue. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs scholar Dan Diker observed:
[F]or most of the period from 1993 to 2000, Israel’s overall diplomatic strategy focused on helping the Palestinians achieve their demands for what Arafat and Palestinian spokesmen had always termed their “legitimate rights,” hoping this would result in peace and security for Israelis. Though well intentioned, this approach undercut Israel’s longstanding diplomatic policy of asserting both Jewish historical rights to Israel and unconditional demands for security.
Netanyahu’s shift boldly embraces this perspective. It’s a view shared by a vast majority of Israelis and the Israeli military. Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, and from Gaza and the Gaza-Egypt border in 2005, without any security agreements or defined borders in order to demonstrate to the U.S. and the “international community” its desire for peace. Not only did a stronger Hamas and Hezbollah emerge to launch attacks on Israel, withdrawal also, as Diker notes, “created and reinforced the impression that the demonstrable lack of peace is Israel’s fault and can be rectified only by further Israeli concessions.”
Ariel Sharon’s former national security adviser Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland pointedly concluded that concessions-based diplomacy made even a two-state solution untenable:
Israel’s current strength constitutes a tremendous change in its strategic situation but Palestinians cannot expect Israel to both concede territory and absorb refugees — that is simply impossible. No Israeli government could agree to decrease the state’s size by withdrawing from territory and then in turn exacerbate domestic demographic problems by also agreeing to absorb refugees — such a move would threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish democracy.
Eiland notes what Obama and others seem oblivious to:
If Israel returned to the 1967 borders, an intolerable situation would emerge in the Jerusalem corridor. Only one road (Highway 1) would connect the capital with the rest of the country. This would drastically restrict movement to the city and create a security problem — namely, any Palestinians in possession of an efficient mortar range, standard antitank weapons, or even light arms could effectively control the road from the border.
The only practicable way to reduce the severity of this threat is to control more territory… Israel will incur a considerable security risk if it reaches a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. [Emphasis added.]
This risk is even greater now. As Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, notes: “The moment when Israel is about to have three hostile and radical Islamist neighbors (Egypt, Gaza Strip, Lebanon) with the possibility of a fourth (a possible Syrian revolution) is not the time to demand concessions to a fifth, half-Islamist, half-radical nationalist one.” Rubin writes that Obama seemingly still believes that Israel should “make a lot of concessions as fast as possible so that the Israel-Palestinian conflict will end and then Israel (with reduced territory and a new hostile, much bigger, neighbor!) will be more popular in the world and more secure in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu understands that this approach has threatened the continued existence of Israel. He understands talking about the urgency of territorial concerns in Israel will have the same effect as Neville Chamberlain telling Czechoslovakia that the threat of war was reason enough to give Sudetenland to the Nazis. Congress understands too. Only Obama and a Europe indifferent to Israel’s survival and the Auschwitz borders believe otherwise.