That was a deeply unwise speech Obama just gave to AIPAC. The president did not ask himself the first question of political speechmaking: Why am I saying this? Instead he surrendered to his personal exasperation with Benjamin Netanyahu, and escalated a confrontation he had every reason to de-escalate.
The president did not merely restate his view on the 1967 lines. He added extra emphasis on a worrying point that was implicit in his big Thursday speech on the Middle East: that the future Palestinian state will have exclusive responsibility for security arrangements within its territory. So, if a rocket is fired at Israel from the West Bank, it will be the security forces of the Palestinian state that will deal with it – or not. If Hezbollah intrudes into the West Bank it will be the security forces of the Palestinian state that will react – or not. And since those security forces are to be non-militarized, they may well lack the means even if they have the will.
The speech left me wondering: if the president is prepared to state now, in advance, that he has a view on the territorial outcome of negotiations, why won’t he state now, in advance, that he has a view on Palestinian refugee claims? Why won’t he state a view in advance on the non-division of Jerusalem? The thing most important to the Palestinians is now the official position of the Obama administration. The concerns of Israel have either been rejected in advance (security within the future West Bank Palestinian state) or else left for negotiation.
Meanwhile the president offers as a new benefit something that Israel had always assumed it could count upon in the past: the support of the US at the United Nations
I don’t know whether we have seen the launch of a new diplomatic initiative on Israel/Palestine. The general sloppiness with which this whole affair has been handled suggests that we are witnessing the fall-out of poorly considered improvisations. (It’s noteworthy that the AIPAC speech as delivered departed in noticeable ways from the text circulated in advance: like the Thursday speech, it was edited up to the last minute).
But here’s what I would guess; the president lost, not gained, friends in the pro-Israel community with his big opportunity at AIPAC today.
And I’d guess further: the standing ovation for Benjamin Netanyahu when he steps foot upon the rostrum of the House of Representatives will be deafening.