On Monday, Secretary John Kerry gave the most significant foreign policy speech of his short tenure as the head of the State Department. When listened to in conjunction with the speech that President Obama made in Jerusalem in March, it becomes clear that this administration has put the Israeli-Palestinian issue at the very top of its foreign policy agenda despite all of the other pressing matters in the world.
I believe that anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian issue should take a half-hour and listen to this speech because it clearly lays out this administration’s beliefs about what needs to be done – and done soon. You can access it here: Sec of State Kerry’s Remarks to AJC 6/3/2013
Kerry’s points were straightforward:
- Israel’s security is top priority. However, “best way to truly ensure Israel’s security today and for future generations is by ending once and for all the conflict with the Palestinians…by reaching a negotiated resolution that results in two states for two peoples…A realistic one-state solution simply does not exist for either side”
- This is the time to move forward
- A negotiated solution (which would include a demilitarized Palestine) is needed
- We must recognize the “Palestinians’ fundamental aspirations” for a state of their own
- Time is running out for a two state solution
- The status quo is not sustainable
- The Palestinian Authority has shown its commitment to non-violence and nation building
- What will happen if there is not a negotiated solution? Any or all of the following:
- Widespread civil disobedience, possibly leading to a third intifada
- Going back to the UN for more recognition
- Going to the International Criminal Court
- Peace pays in economic benefits to all
- The Arab League has re-emphasized its Peace Initiative – with the addition of allowing for land swaps
- The American Jewish community must use its voice in pushing leaders to take bold steps for peace
These are almost verbatim the talking points that J Street has been using since its inception in 2008. One of J Street’s primary missions has been to support the American administration to put this issue on the front burner – and it is obvious that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have done that. It is now time for the rest of the American Jewish community to join in.
- When Kerry says ‘both sides,’ AIPAC says the Palestinians (jta.org)
- Kerry warns Israel that status quo cannot hold (washingtonpost.com)
Far be it from me to speculate what the motivations would be for people to want to mischaracterize the President’s positions and actions towards Israel, but it certainly appears that there are indeed folks out their who are claiming that, based upon the speeches which Mr. Obama made over the past week, he is the most “Anti-Israel President ” ever. (Shockingly, some of these comments have even been heard from those who are normally fair and balanced). What is even more upsetting is that if I am wrong (which I am known to be occasionally) and those people are correct in saying that he is insidiously anti-Israel, we have a bigger problem. Because that would mean, since their veiwpoints are so closely tied as you will see, that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be the most anti-Israel Prime Minister that Israel has ever had! And somebody had better wake up the Israelis ASAP so that they can drum this guy out of office because things are tough enough without having their country run by an imposter who is clearly as anti-Israel as this Obama no-goodnik.
Why do I say this, you might ask? Because I have actually gone through the transcripts of the four speeches given since last Thursday and discovered something that really is surprising. When you strip away the audiences and all those standing ovations, when you look at the texts of these speeches, not only are each of their positions virtually identical, but they even use almost exactly the same themes. And, everyone talks about the importance of there being “no daylight” between the US and Israel, and I’ve got to tell you, when I compare the differences between Barrack and Bibi’s positions, I am surely not being blinded by the light.
Although a lot was made of the “1967 borders” issue, anyone who listened to the speech or even read the transcript had to understand that “1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps” was all part of a single phrase which should never have been parsed out separately. Also, as the President said in his speech to AIPAC, anyone who has spent any time at all following the current status of the peace process knows that virutally everyone agrees that any agreement will almost certainly involve just that: 1967 borders plus swaps. And when you actually read the details of what Bibi and Barrack both said about this, they really didn’t disagree.
As to the Right of Return and Jerusalem, granted Obama did not agree with Bibi. On the other hand, he didn’t disagree either. What he was doing, it is clear, was trying to bring the parties together using the two issues that various reports (including Bernard Avishai’s NYT Magazine article about Olmert and Abbas negotiations) indicated they were close on: Borders and Security. The idea was that if they could show some progress on these issues, it could build trust and goodwill before moving on to the even more intransigent issues.
So, my only conclusion, as difficult as it is for me to believe, is that there are actually people out there that want to misrepresent Obama’s stand towards Israel. And, heaven forbid, they may even be doing it for political purposes!
Finally, I believe so strongly that the content spoken by Obama and Netanyahu is almost exactly the same (with the partial exception of the Right of Return & Jerusalem issues as stated above), that I challenge anyone out there to prove me wrong. If you can come up with some valid evidence using direct language from these speeches showing me where I have missed significant disagreements, then I have a crisp $100 bill here that I am prepared to give to Magen David Adom. Let me know. I’m up for the challenge. Either way, it’s win-win. Kind of like a peace agreement might be…
Below is a topic-by-topic comparison of selections from the four speeches:
|Borders||The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.||The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.|
|Borders The Sequel||By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation||The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations. But we
must also be honest. So I am saying today something that should be said
publicly by anyone serious about peace. In any peace agreement that ends
the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. The
precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated.
|Borders III||It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.||This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.|
|Enough with the Borders Already||We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.|
|Palestinian Right of Return||Open issue||Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they
so choose, to a Palestinian state. This means that the Palestinian refugee
problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.
|Jerusalem||Open issue||As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship
for all faiths in the city. Jerusalem must never again be divided.
Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a
difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill
a solution can be found.
|Israel as a Jewish State||Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. [Emphasis added]||My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have
done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I
said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to
stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
|Self-Defense||As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat||As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.||When we say never again, we mean never again. Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.|
|Security||Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.[Emphasis added]||Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.||So it is therefore absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they are necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. For in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow.|
|Obama Admin Commitment to Israel||As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.||Yesterday President Obama spoke about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s
security. He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented. He
spoke of that commitment in front of AIPAC. He spoke about it in two
speeches heard throughout the Arab world. And he has backed those words
|Security Cooperation||It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels.||He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented|
|Advanced Technologies||It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies|
|Military $$||And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.||I know these are tough economic times. So I want to thank the president and
Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can
defend itself by itself
|Thank you all, and thank you President Obama,
for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times
are tough. I deeply appreciate this.
|Iron Dome||That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. … make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.||I want to thank you all for supporting the Iron
Dome missile defense system
|Agreement Must Be Between the Two Parties||These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict.|
|Delegitimization||For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.||You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”…No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.|
|Hamas As a Partner||Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.||Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.||And Hamas is not a partner for peace. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s
destruction and to terrorism. They have a charter. That charter not only
calls for the obliteration of Israel, but says ‘kill the Jews wherever you
find them’. Hamas’ leader condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden and
praised him as a holy warrior.
|Hamas-Fatah Unification||the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel — how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.||And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements|
|Israel’s Right to Exist||And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.||My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have
done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I
said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to
stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
|Gilad Shalit||And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.||And you’ve joined
President Obama and me in denouncing Hamas and demanding that it release our captive soldier, Gilad Shalit
|New Proposals?||There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations.…By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation …If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. [Emphasis added]|
|Palestinian intransigence||So why has peace not been
achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.…You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.
|Iran||See below||A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East…This is why I ask you to continue to send an unequivocal message: That America will never permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.|
|Obama’s Actions Against Iran||You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.||It is even worse because there
are many who rush to condemn Israel for defending itself against Iran’s
terror proxies. But not you. Not America. You have acted differently. You’ve condemned the Iranian regime for its genocidal aims. You’ve passed tough sanctions against Iran. History will salute you America. President Obama has said that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He successfully led the Security Council to adopt sanctions against Iran. You in Congress passed even tougher sanctions. These words and deeds are vitally important.
|Arab Teaching Hatred||For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.||They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name
public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to
perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the
descendants of Palestinian refugees.
- Israel’s 1967 borders ‘indefensible’, Netanyahu tells Aipac (guardian.co.uk)
- “Former AIPAC Official Dodges Questions On Whether 1967 Borders Has Been US Policy â€˜For Yearsâ€™” and related posts (wonkroom.thinkprogress.org)
As many of you know, a group of former Israeli military and political leaders released an Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI) (full text here) on Tuesday to coincide with the visit to the United States of Shimon Peres, Israel’s President, and his meeting with President Obama. [Contrast that with what came from the Israeli government: a “coincidental” announcement by the Israeli Municipal Planning Commission that they had approved almost 1,000 new permits in the settlements]. The Initiative essentially combines elements of the Geneva Initiative of 2003 and the Arab League Initiative of 2002, but in substance doesn’t offer any dramatically different content.
But there was one thing different from anything that I have seen come out of either the Netanyahu administration, the PLA, or most of the “sense of Congress” letters (particularly those with the most signatures). That is the Preamble:
The State of Israel,
- Reaffirming that Israel’s strategic objective is to reach a historic compromise and permanent status agreements that shall determine the finality of all claims and the end of the Israeli Arab conflict, in order to achieve permanent and lasting peace, lasting and guaranteed security, regional economic prosperity and normal ties with all Arab and Islamic states,
- Recognizing the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries, and realizing the need to resolve the Palestinian refugees problem through realistic and mutually agreed-upon solutions,
- Realizing that wide-scale multilateral economic cooperation is essential in order to ensure the prosperity of the Middle East, its environmental sustainability and the future of its peoples,
- Recognizing the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002 (API) as a historic effort made by the Arab states to reach a breakthrough and achieve progress on a regional basis, and sharing the API statement “that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties,”
This statement not only reflects the truth, but also a fresh breath of humility. Both the Palestinian and the Israeli governments claim to want peace, but inevitably each of their statements contain some element of accusation about the other side – whether the attack is overt or covert, or just in a related context [viz., the housing announcement referenced above]. And you know what? Usually those accusations are correct. But is that any way to actually get to peace? At the same time that you claim to be reaching out to your adversary, you excoriate them for everything that they have done. While there are plenty of excoriations to go around, the point is that you have to move beyond the past, and even the present, to the future. The Palestinians and the Israelis will only make peace when they can both envision a different, more productive, more secure life for the region. That is precisely the vision conjured up by the those behind the IPI.
One other thing that I like about this proposal is that it bases itself on the Arab Peace Initiative (API). While the API is not perfect, it does recognize the reality on the ground and makes several important philosophical concessions. But it is extremely significant that the drafters of the IPI chose to reference the API. It gives important recognition and respect to the other side’s views. Again, that is a crucial element that has been missing from the Israeli, Palestinian and mainstream American Jewish messaging. Without respect for the other, reconciliation is impossible.