It's been a long time since these words were spoken by an Israeli prime minister. "In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers," Benjamin Netanyahu said in his address to both houses of the U.S. Congress, and the representatives of the American people rose and cheered. Former Israeli prime ministers passively accepted the slurs hurled at Israel over the years at home and abroad that Israel was an "occupier" in the areas beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Even Ariel Sharon in his last years in office began referring to the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria as the "occupation."
This false role that Israeli prime ministers regretfully assumed in the name of the people of Israel, causing inestimable damage to Israel's image throughout the world, helped embed the concept that this "occupation" was an evil that had to be eliminated. It was no mean feat that Netanyahu had the courage to deny the falsehood of the "occupation" in speaking to Congress, a falsehood that had been adopted by his predecessors in recent years.
The many disappointed Israeli commentators who had hoped that Netanyahu would herald the end of the "occupation" had no difficulty finding excuses for the rousing reception his words received in Washington. One went so far as to write that even if Netanyahu had been reading from the telephone book he would have received standing ovations. Others remarked that no significance should be attached to the enthusiastic reception his words received in Congress, reminding the reader that all Israeli prime ministers had been greeted by standing ovations when addressing Congress.
But they just forgot to mention that those former Israeli prime ministers addressed Congress on occasions when their policy was completely coordinated with the White House. This time it was different. Netanyahu spoke to Congress after he had made it clear that he did not agree with Barack Obama's call for Israel to withdraw to the "1967 lines," and he reiterated that position in his speech.
So now come the self-anointed Israeli experts on the American system of government and explain to their readers that in the United States, foreign policy is made by the president and Congress plays no part. So it really doesn't matter if the present Congress is especially friendly and supportive of Israel and the positions of the democratically elected government of Israel if it has no voice in making foreign policy.
But these "experts" are only displaying their ignorance of the checks and balances in the United States between the president and Congress, a system that extends to foreign policy. While executive authority rests with the president, he is limited in pursuing a foreign policy that runs counter to the position of the majority in Congress.
In any case, even these "experts" must understand that Netanyahu's reception in Congress was an impressive demonstration of the strong bond between the people of America and the people of Israel. They might also take a look at the Washington Post headline the day after Netanyahu's appearance in Congress, which stated that senior Democrats had criticized the president. When a few days later Obama took part in the G8 meeting in Europe, he was probably surprised when the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, objected to the inclusion of the "1967 lines" in the G8's resolution on the Middle East. North of the U.S. border there is another great friend of Israel who seems to agree with Netanyahu.
Obama probably realizes by now that he made a mistake when he said the "1967 lines" should serve as the baseline for territorial negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Somebody should have told him that for most Israelis the "1967 lines," those that Abba Eban in his famous UN speech referred to as the "Auschwitz borders," are like a red rag to a bull.
Another person probably made a mistake on this occasion. The leader of the Israeli opposition, Tzipi Livni, without giving it a moment's thought, used the opportunity to criticize the prime minister, announcing that Netanyahu should have accepted Obama's proposal. She is likely to discover that withdrawal to the "1967 lines" is going to make for an unpopular Kadima platform in the next election.
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