If Barack Obama got stung by a lecture from Benjamin Netanyahu last week after publicly insisting on using the 1967 borders as a demarcation for a future Palestinian state, at least he expected the leader of Israel to scold him over the demand. He probably didn’t expect one from Harry Reid. Hours after Obama’s attempt to backpedal at AIPAC from Thursday’s speech, Reid denounced even the concept of issuing demands in speeches and declared that only negotiations between the parties could create mutually defensible borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Reid even managed to sound angry about it:
The most powerful Democrat in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on Monday night publicly rejected President Barack Obama’s decision to use a recent speech to lay out aspects of a potential peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The place where negotiating will happen must be at the negotiating table – and nowhere else,” Reid declared in a speech to an annual gathering in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “Those negotiations … will not happen – and their terms will not be set – through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media.”
When the Senate leader added, “No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building, or about anything else,” the lights quickly came up on the vast audience and most in the crowd at the Washington Convention Center rose to their feet and applauded.
Wow. Reid usually only musters that kind of passion when declaring America the loser in a war.
The White House refused comment on Reid’s remarks, but they sting. Obama framed his remarks on Thursday as merely a public statement of the principles that have guided American policy on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for more than a decade, at least, and he’s right about that much. Previous administrations had the good sense to keep that quiet, however, and work on both sides to gain ground (pardon the pun) on an eventual, mutually-acceptable map. Both sides seem to have understood this as well. Now, just as with the earlier fumble on building in Jerusalem, Obama has changed the negotiating dynamic, and not in favor of Israel.
Reid’s speech puts Obama firmly outside of the mainstream on this issue. The White House is finding itself isolated on the fringe and losing the battle of public opinion. If Obama hoped for a game changer with his speech on Thursday, he got one — but not in the way Obama imagined.