Report: Obama told Netanyahu there’d be no surprises in the speech; Update: Not a surprise?

posted at 4:46 pm on May 19, 2011 by Allahpundit

Was there a surprise in the speech? Bibi certainly seems to think so, but 1967 borders have been endorsed by prominent U.S. officials before — sort of:

“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” the U.S. president said, referring to what are official known as the 1949 Armistice lines, “so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

That’s one step further the position outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, when she called for such an outcome to be the product of negotiations: “We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

Jeffrey Goldberg scoffs at the uproar and notes that 1967 has been the U.S. model for a good 12 years. Maybe that’s why The One didn’t give Tel Aviv a heads up? He wasn’t ignoring them, he just didn’t realize that they’d perceive his endorsement as a significant step and a bona fide surprise. Smart power:

“It certainly was a difficult decision, but ultimately the president determined that a call for reform in the Middle East and an American proscription for engagement with the Arab nations would seem hollow if [Obama] did not provide direction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well,” Wexler said…

The Israelis were surprised by the remarks as well. The Netanyahu government had been assured of no surprises in the speech, especially since Obama is set to meet with the prime minister in Washington Friday and address the policy conference of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, on Sunday. Obama’s remarks were not only a surprise, but “not a very good one,” one Israeli official said.

Some of Israel’s supporters saw the remarks as unhelpful.

Reaction to the speech on Twitter among some of the strongest Israel supporters I read was actually quite positive, thanks mainly to O’s Bushian championing of democracy and liberal values over realpolitik. Check out the passage about a third of the way down that begins with, “We support a set of universal rights.” I can almost hear Dubya’s Texas twang. In the Middle East itself, reaction is … less positive, notwithstanding the bit about Israel’s borders — which is proof, I guess, of how it’s really not a big deal after all. Follow that last link and sample some of the brutal quotes from Arabs reminding The One that decades spent supporting cretins like Mubarak and Ben Ali can’t be undone so easily. A taste, referring to his wildly overhyped speech in Egypt two years ago: “The overwhelming sense was one of deja vu. I kept waiting for Cairo II, but all I heard was Cairo I.”

What’s so odd about this speech is that it was designed to ingratiate the U.S. with the democratic movements driving the Arab Spring, with Bin Laden’s killing an obvious pivot point. The age of 9/11 is over, I took him to be saying, and now the golden age of liberalization can begin. That’s why he spent 35 minutes encouraging young Arabs to confront the cultural and political pathologies that have kept them oppressed. But rather than leave it at that and let that idea hopefully resonate, he inexplicably segued in the last 10 minutes to the endless Israeli/Palestinian bugaboo and ended up totally swamping his central message with a headline-grabbing bit about the ’67 borders. The Times is actually leading with that part, even though it came at the very end and was practically an afterthought. Which it deserved to be: As Mitch Daniels(!) correctly noted in an interview today, one of the important lessons about the Arab Spring is how irrelevant the Palestinian issue has been to it. Arab leaders looooove to demagogue the “suffering in Gaza” as a distraction from their own corruption, but Egyptians are more worried about jobs and cheap bread. Rather than stick to those latter concerns, though, The One couldn’t resist wading into the former — and inexplicably (inadvertently?) refocused the whole takeaway of the speech in the process. Madness.

Update: A nice catch from Hot Air alum Bryan Preston. A major Israeli paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, reported two days ago that Obama would publicly endorse the 1967 borders. Bibi’s “surprise” may simply be surprise that O didn’t relent after Israel asked him to remove that passage from the text.


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