Will Obama Reframe His '1967 Borders' Message for AIPAC?

Numerous U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns over U.S. President Barack Obama's call for Middle East peace negotiations to be based on the 1967 borders.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will be out of the country.

Yet before Obama's departure on a trip to Europe, all eyes will be on the president's speech to the annual conference of the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC in Washington on Sunday.

Obama – Reuters – April 13, 2011
Reuters

Republicans, including some potential or announced 2012 presidential candidates, slammed the “1967 borders” part of Obama's Middle East policy speech that was given on Thursday. Newt Gingrich called it “dangerous” and “disastrous”, as far as Israel's security is concerned, and said that a “president who can’t control his own border shouldn’t lecture Israel on their border.”

Rep. Ron Paul, another presidential hopeful, said in a statement that “unlike this president, I do not believe it is our place to dictate how Israel runs her affairs. There can only be peace in the region if those sides work out their differences among one another. We should respect Israel’s sovereignty and not try to dictate her policy from Washington.”

And former U.S. ambassador to China John Huntsman said that “if we respect Israel, we probably ought to ask what they think is best.”

But it wasn’t only Republicans, including Congressional leaders, who didn't like the “Israeli-Palestinian” portion of the speech. Some criticism was voiced by Democratic members of Congress, who lauded Obama for his approach to the Arab Spring as well as his plan to support the reforms in Tunisia and Egypt and his strict line against Syria, but hinted that they'd like to hear a retraction or more clear interpretation of the president's reference to "1967 borders with land swaps.”

Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent senator from Connecticut, said that “unfortunately, President Obama's important and constructive speech embracing and supporting the peaceful, democratic revolutions in the Arab world was also undermined by an unhelpful and surprising set of remarks about Israel and the Palestinians that will not advance the peace process and in fact is likely to set it back."

"While the president made some strong statements about the 'unshakeable' support for Israel's security and rightly criticized the Palestinian pursuit of a symbolic statehood declaration at the UN in September, his unilateral call for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps - the first time any president has adopted this position - was profoundly ill-advised. As in the case of the president's counterproductive demand for a settlement freeze two years ago, unilateral statements of this sort do nothing to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table and in fact make it harder for them to do so. They also damage the relationship of trust that is critical to peacemaking."

"In the days ahead, I hope President Obama will make clear Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas unity government until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions. I also hope that the president will make clear that his administration recognizes the 1967 borders themselves are no longer an acceptable endpoint for negotiations because they do not allow Israel to defend itself, and that any peace agreement must reflect new realities on the ground, including the major new Israeli communities that have grown up since 1967, and the need for an extended presence by the IDF in the Jordan River Valley.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, Democrat from Nevada, said she was “extremely troubled” by Obama’s call for Israel to ‘act boldly’ for peace.

“It is not Israel who has welcomed a terrorist organization into its government," she said. "It is not Israel that has steadfastly refused to negotiate over the last several years. Sadly, it is the Palestinians who have done that, to the detriment of their own people and to world peace."

“And while I appreciate the President’s recognition of how difficult it will be for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority now that Hamas is part of that government, we must go a step further and demonstrate our clear opposition to any negotiations with Hamas: the U.S. must immediately cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority until that government recognizes Israel’s right to exist, agrees to abide by past agreements, renounces terrorism and releases Gilad Shalit."

Rep. Ted Deutch, Democrat from Florida, said that “should Israel find a partner for peace who is willing to join Prime Minister Netanyahu at the negotiating table. Israel cannot be expected to make any territorial concessions that do not acknowledge the reality on the ground. The 1967 borders are indefensible. References to 'land swaps' must mean that major Israeli population areas in the post-Six Day War territory, including the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, will forever continue to be a part of the Jewish state of Israel."

"Let us never forget that the lack of progress thus far in the peace process stems directly from the Palestinians’ outrageous refusal to directly negotiate after historic Israeli concessions. Rather than choose dialogue, the Palestinians have instead partnered with a terrorist organization that intentionally targets and murders Israeli citizens, continues to hold Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit prisoner, and denies Israel’s very right to exist. Hamas is not a partner for peace; they are a prescription for terrorism.”

Many others reiterated similar concerns, and Rep. Eliott Engel, Democrat from New York, stressed that “the president still has the opportunity to elaborate on these points when he speaks on Sunday about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and I, for one, will listen carefully to what he has to say.”