Barack Obama has decided to base his diplomatic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Saudi peace plan, the Times of London reports today. A “senior Obama adviser” tells the Times that Obama will back the plan that divides Jerusalem into two capitals and pulls Israel back to pre-1967 borders:
Barack Obama is to pursue an ambitious peace plan in the Middle East involving the recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, according to sources close to America’s president-elect.
Obama intends to throw his support behind a 2002 Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League and backed by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister and leader of the ruling Kadima party.
The proposal gives Israel an effective veto on the return of Arab refugees expelled in 1948 while requiring it to restore the Golan Heights to Syria and allow the Palestinians to establish a state capital in east Jerusalem.
On a visit to the Middle East last July, the president-elect said privately it would be “crazy” for Israel to refuse a deal that could “give them peace with the Muslim world”, according to a senior Obama adviser.
Apparently, Obama has changed his position from his speech at AIPAC. In early June, he told the Israeli-supporting political action group that Jerusalem “must remain undivided,” drawing thunderous applause and roars of criticism later from Palestinian groups. Within hours, Obama retreated to the Bush administration position — that Jerusalem should be left to the two sides to negotiate in the final settlement.
Welcome to Obama 3.0 on Jerusalem. Now he has switched sides to the exact opposite of what he argued at AIPAC. One has to wonder what all of those Jewish voters who supported Obama will think of this new position on Israel’s borders and security, but somehow I doubt it would get thunderous applause at AIPAC.
In Israel, the reception could be more mixed. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leading candidate for Prime Minister from Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party, backs the Saudi peace plan in concept, including the division of Jerusalem. The Israeli Left supports it as well, with Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert both endorsing the plan. Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu opposes it entirely.
Obama reportedly told Mahmoud Abbas that “Israel would be crazy” not to accept the plan. He concluded that the Saudi plan would give Israel peace with the entire Muslim world. Really? It might make it palatable for some states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to start diplomatic relations with Israel, and perhaps even Syria if they get back the Golan Heights. But who believes that Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and the proxy armies of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad will suddenly discover brotherly love with such a settlement? They want Israel wiped off the map, literally in Iran’s case, and the Israelis driven into the Mediterranean.
Israel can decide on its own to take a risk and adopt the smaller borders in exchange for the promise of peace. Obama should have stuck with his AIPAC speech, or the initial retreat from it.
Update: In the comments, Meryl Yourish notes that one of the article’s authors has credibility problems.