Obama Stacks the Deck Against Israel

May 26th, 2011 at 8:32 am David Frum | 43 Comments |

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Alan Dershowitz has a clear and vigorous oped in the Jerusalem Post today about the continuing missteps in President Obama’s thinking about the Israel-Palestine question, as revealed Wednesday in a joint press conference with UK PM David Cameron:

Here is what the president said: “It is going to require wrenching compromise from both sides. In the last decade, when negotiators have talked about how to achieve that outcome, there have been typically four issues that have been raised. One is the issue of what would the territorial boundaries of a new Palestinian state look like. Number two: how could Israel feel confident that its security needs would be met? Number three: how would the issue of Palestinian refugees be resolved; and number four, the issue of Jerusalem. The last two questions are extraordinarily emotional. They go deep into how the Palestinians and the Jewish people think about their own identities. Ultimately they are going to be resolved by the two parties. I believe that those two issues can be resolved if there is the prospect and the promise that we can actually get to a Palestinian state and a secure Jewish state of Israel.”

This recent statement clearly reveals the underlying flaw in Obama’s thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no way that Israel can agree to borders without the Palestinians also agreeing to give up any claim to a “right of return.” As Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad Salaam once told me: each side has a major card to play and a major compromise to make; for Israel, that card is the West Bank, and the compromise is returning to the 1967 lines with agreed-upon adjustments and land swaps; for the Palestinians, that card is “the right of return,” and the compromise is an agreement that the Palestinian refugees will be settled in Palestine and not in Israel; in other words, that there will be no right to “return” to Israel.

President Obama’s formulation requires Israel to give up its card and to make a “wrenching compromise” by dismantling most of the West Bank settlements and ending its occupation of the West Bank. But it does not require the Palestinians to give up their card and to compromise on the right of return. That “extraordinarily emotional” issue is to be left to further negotiations only after the borders have been agreed to.

This temporal ordering – requiring Israel to give up the “territorial” card before the Palestinians even have to negotiate about the “return” card – is a non-starter for Israel and it is more than the Palestinians have privately asked for. Once again, President Obama, by giving the Palestinians more than they asked for, has made it difficult, if not impossible, for the Palestinians to compromise.

But it’s worse even than Prof Dershowitz says.

President Obama has publicly prejudged two of the four issues he has identified as key: borders and also security.

On borders, Obama has endorsed the 67 lines with swaps formula.

On security, Obama has decreed that Israel must evacuate all its security forces from the land assigned to the Palestinians – meaning that Israel must trust others to protect the Jordan Valley and the airspace over the West Bank highlands.

The only issues on which he has not opined are refugees and Jerusalem. The question naturally arises: does he envision a trade whereby the Palestinians surrender their demand for a “right of return” in exchange for Israel surrendering sovereignty over united Jerusalem?

If so, 3 thoughts:

1) American presidents have till now insisted that peace must be negotiated by the parties, rather than imposed by Washington. President Obama is departing from this major precedent – a huge change in US policy, and one full of risks. If the US dictates the peace, it’s hard for the US to avoid responsibility for enforcing the peace.

2) The President is asking the Israelis to place extraordinary confidence in the competence, will, and benign intentions of the future security forces of the future Palestinian state, perhaps backed by international peacekeepers. That request ignores i) the unbroken record of failure of international peacekeepers in the region dating back to 1967 and continuing to the travesties of the UN forces in Lebanon; ii) the Hamas-Fatah deal that brings the Islamist terrorist group into the center of Palestinian govt; and iii) the president’s own statement in his Thursday speech that Israel should be able to defend itself, by itself.

3) The Jerusalem-refugees deal implied by the president’s words in London asks Israel to exchange something it has and can enforce by itself – sovereignty over Jerusalem – for something the Palestinians do not have and cannot enforce – free entry of Palestinians into Israel. The Israelis might as well exchange Jerusalem for mining rights on the moon. The situation of Palestinian refugees is an issue left over, not from 1967, but from the war of 1947-49, a war started by Palestinian Arabs and then the Arab states, in violation of the UN partition decree. Even to raise the refugee issue gives the lie to the Palestinian claim to have accepted the existence of Israel. And lest we forget, that acceptance was a precondition for the starting of the very first round of the peace process back in 1993.

The Palestinian right of return is not the equivalent of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. It is the equivalent of Israeli claims to sovereignty over the East bank of the Jordan River, as promised by the League of Nations after the First World War … a claim impressive only to antiquarians and hyper-partisans.

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43 Comments so far ↓

  • indy

    Shilling for Israel again? So freaking tiresome.

  • ottovbvs

    Alan Dershowitz? Now there’s an objective source. I’m actually fairly philosophical about DF’s shilling for Israel, it’s so blatant it’s funny. And he has a great blog here where with a few exceptions one see’s interesting contributions. So I just regard his Israel mania as a nervous tic.

  • Graychin

    Dershowitz’ op-ed doesn’t say what DF says it says. And neither man seems to have paid any attention to what Obama actually said.

    It’s all moot anyway as long as Netanyahu is in power. Over several decades he has shown a strong disinclination to change the status quo, other than to build more settlements with the objective of locking up for Greater Israel as much land as possible.

    Has anyone ever asked Netanyahu what his vision is for the ideal future of the Palestinian people?

  • British_Lefty

    Israel’s annexing of Land since 1967 in “Judea and Samaria” is considered illegal under International Laws put in place to stop any other country doing what the Nazis did, invading other countries for land and resource. I still think that is an irony lost on many people.

    I still do not understand why the demand (more like excuse) is repeatedly made for recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Like that makes any sort of difference to anything. Israel exists and can no longer be dislodged! This is not 1948 any more. The Jews are not victims any more! THERE IS NO EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO ISRAEL, and certainly not from Hamas. Not accepting Israel does not make it go away just like asserting, however forcefully, that Israel isn’t an occupying force doesn’t make that true either.

    Unlike Israel, on the other hand, a Palestinian State does not exist. Even in the proposal for talks, it seems Israel will insist on any eventual Palestinian state being demilitarised. In other words they will have to rely on outsiders for security. How is this acceptable? Would anyone proposing this live in such a state? But so long as Israel is secure, all’s fair right?

    Why do Israel supporters wilfully blind themselves to the suffering of the ordinary people under the occupation?

  • armstp

    “But it’s worse even than Prof Dershowitz says.”

    It all depends on which perspective you are looking at this from. “Worse” from who’s perspective?

    I give Obama full credit for getting everyone talking and focused on this issue again. There will always be whinners! Instead of endless bitching and complaining from people like Frum, why don’t these whinners come up with solutions and help to solve the problem. Push their buddies on both sides to resolve this. That would be a more constructive use of their time.

  • Fozz

    More mindless hackery by David Frum………it is not in America’s interest for Israel to keep occupying those territories. In fact, it would be absurd for Israel NOT to withdraw from the West Bank with a return to slightly modified 1967 lines. And remember, it was Netanyahu who boasted about how Israel benefited from 9/11.

  • zephae

    Article number 6 following David’s blatant and shameless flip-flop on Obama’s line about borders and land swaps. Seriously, Frum, your shilling for Bibi is disgraceful, and it is beyond me why you cant show any balls and respond to your readers like Noah does. Care to explain how you went from “Obama’s speech was great and he’s right about the borders issue: its about security not borders. Good, tough message to Abbas” to, “he’s giving in to the Palestinian mind game and selling Israel out”?

  • msmilack

    I’m confused. I believe people have misunderstood what Obama actually said and taken his meaning out of context. In different words, he said the same thing Netanyahu said. I think politics have replaced common sense.

  • msmilack

    One more thought: I find it fascinating that 57 percent of the Israelis are mad that Netanyahu didn’t just agree with Obama instead of making it sound like he is suggesting something different. Nixon said of the Israelis that they must always appear outraged to save face even when they agree. He was right.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    There is no way that Israel can agree to borders without the Palestinians also agreeing to give up any claim to a “right of return.”

    Oh my God, why the hell not? Let me get this straight, Israel can have internationally legally recognized boundries that they can set up border posts as every other country in the world has, and there can be a Palestinian state where Palestinians can live but Israel can’t do it because the Palestinian position is that some Palestinians want to live in Israel? And Israel can’t say NO?
    Mexico and the US have agreed upon borders and if Mexico were to now decide they want a right of return to areas that used to be part of Mexico for some Mexican descendants and Calderon came to America and made that demand he would not be laughed out of the country?

    The Palestinians have no way to enforce their own demand for right of return, they can ask for it. As a negotiating position with my boss I can go in and ask for a Maserati as my company car, I can ask for it at every meeting, there is ZERO obligation on his part to provide it.

    “The Palestinian right of return is not the equivalent of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.” Is absolutely right. Israel has sovereignty over Jerusalem now. The Palestinian right of return is equivalent to my asking my boss for a Maserati. It doesn’t hurt me to ask but he doesn’t have to say yes.

    • ram6968

      I think one aspect of “right of return” is a matter of only jews casting votes in their “jewish democracy”

      • jakester

        Of course the globe is littered with Muslim and Arab countries, who if they still have a few Jews left, their Jews are treated as subjects. But Israel must allow people utterly hostile to democracy, Israel and Judaism to participate so they can destroy the Jewish state through democratic means when armed ones failed.

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    There are a ton of misleading and false statements in there about what Pres. Obama said, but let’s leave that aside.

    Obama gave a speech laying out the US approach.

    Israel knows that it can ignore US policy with few consequences– famously, it frequently builds settlements on occupied lands even though this is contrary to long-standing US policy.

    If Netanyahu (or Frum) thinks that the ideas in Obama’s speech were bad things, there’s plenty of time for Israel to disagree with them, ignore them, negotiate them away.

    But instead of that reasoned approach, we get Netanyahu and David Frum flipping out.

    The transparent lying about the importance of 1967 borders is quite revealing. In reality, this is old news. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert thought the pre-1967 borders should be the starting point for negotiations. So did Israeli PM Ehud Barak and US Pres. Bush Jr. Netanyahu & Clinton signed a joint statement recognizing that this was US policy a few years ago. Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass explained, “anyone here deluding himself . . . that the drawing of the new map will be based on any reference point other than the 1967 boundaries is simply disconnected from reality.”

    Frum’s eagerness to find insults where there are none, and to pretend that the US has put a gun to Israel’s head and made ultimatums when in fact it has simply laid out its starting position, indicates that what he really wants to do here is avoid resolving the issue of the West Bank. It is not anything the US has actually done, it is the mention of the word “negotiations” that has him lashing out.

    That course will destroy Israel.

    As Jeffrey Goldberg put it,

    If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning. … I would wait as the Israeli population on the West Bank grew, and grew some more. I would wait until 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, which ended with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would go before the UN and say the following:

    “We, the Palestinians, no longer seek a homeland of our own. We recognize the permanence of Israeli occupation, the dominion of the Israeli military and the power of the Israeli economy. So we would like to join them. In the 50 years since the beginning of the ’temporary’ occupation, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis build communities near our own communities. We admire what they have built, and the system of laws that governs their lives. Unlike them, many of us live under Israeli military law but have no say in choosing the Israelis who rule us. So we no longer want statehood. We simply want the vote.”

    And this, of course, would bring about the end of Israel.


    That is Netanyahu’s course.

    Even if the US said something that made Netanyahu feel very sad and mad, his job is to look beyond his emotions, beyond polling results, and try to think about his country’s long-term interests.

    It is not in Israel’s interests to pick fights with the US. It is not in Israel’s interests to delay resolving the occupation. If the US says something in a speech that Israel doesn’t like, then Israel can ignore it, and move forward on its own course forward. Instead, Netanyahu prefers to pretend that the speech was a straightjacket, and vent spleen about it. He is incapable of seeing a way forward. Netanyahu, like David Frum in Canada, and George Bush Jr. in the US, is the product of right-wing politicking, rather than strategic thinking. Netanyahu is the George Bush Jr. to Ariel Sharon’s George Bush Sr. He is simply incapable of thinking outside the four corners of his talking points.

    As Netanyahu heads home, he can sleep easy: he rose a couple points in the polls. Mission Accomplished. Someone get him a flight suit.

  • rbottoms

    OMFG, Obama just put his country’s interests ahead of Israel’s. Who ccould have predicted that?

    The Palestenians didn’t just discover they hate Israel and decide not to negotiate due this massive “slip-up.” Our interests are served by keeping the two sides from making our Iraq withdrawal harder while they both wait for Hell to freeze over

  • nuser

    ” Obama stacks the deck against Israel” That statement is totally unfair , biased , evil, manipulating,
    disloyal, Obama bashing, un american, traitorous , and above all it is a lie (again)
    Let us now hope someone else acquires the Bomb and gives Israel a run for their money.
    You are not helping any with your deceit and lies, David Frum! How different is President Obama’s
    stand on Israel from other U.S. presidents? You are just another Sarah Palin!

  • LFC

    David, I think you really did pull a bit of a hysterical little kid act on this one. This topic really seems to cause you to abandon logic, thought, and analysis for pure emotion. Take a deep breath and get your head back in the game.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Otto, thanks to that link to the NY Times piece.

    I thinks quote from that article sums up how things have gone down in light of Bibi’s speech to Congress quite well:
    Ben Caspit, a columnist for the newspaper Maariv, who spends much of his time attacking the prime minister, wrote, “This was a good speech, brilliantly delivered, with all the tricks and shticks and highlights in the right places.” He said Mr. Netanyahu was “focused, charismatic and self-confident” and called his address to Congress “a sweeping personal victory.”

    But Mr. Caspit asked whether it was also a national victory. His reply: “O.K., it depends whom you ask, from what angle you look, and what you’re scared of. Those who are scared of peace yesterday got their wish. Those who are scared of war will be a lot more scared today.”

  • midcon

    Is this Israel Week at FrumForum?

    David, you should understand a couple of things. The first is that just because don’t buy into you alarmist nonense doesn’t mean we don’t respect Israels right to exist as a sovereign nation. And second, just because we criticize Israel’s blatant actions does not imply that we approve of the Arab communities actions either. Both the Jewish people and the Arab people need to grow up. It is one thing to act in an adolescent manner when you are a new country trying to find your way in the world but the time for that behavior (if there ever was a time) was in 1950s and 60s. This is the 21st century. Time to cut the apron strings and man up or stop pretending Israel is a nation that belongs in the family of nations instead of a glorified refugee camp about to be overrun by marauding hordes.

  • John Q

    On borders, Obama has endorsed the 67 lines with swaps formula.

    The same long standing US position. See for instance the press release from the Israel Minisitry of Foreign Affairs:

    But when Obama says the same things? Oh, my, the heavens fall.

    Why is that, do you think?

  • John Frodo

    Wow David, not a mention of the capture of one of the worlds worst criminals since Hitler. I guess its because the International Criminal Court is part of the deal. Read my blog and feel ashamed.

  • Jane Barleycorn

    In the last two and a half years, Netanyahu has done nothing except obstruct negotiations to a possible peace settlement. The Palestinians will not negotiate until new settlements are halted. What’s wrong with that? Netanyahu’s visit had two purposes: to play to his base, and to try to get American Jews to think Obama is anti-Israel. Obama is not. Like not Americans, he supports Israel, but not the fantasies of a greater Israel.

  • pnumi2

    Some men lose all reason because they are dragged around by their testicles, others lose their reason when they are dragged around by Israel.

    If ever there was “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,” the advocacy of giving Israel whatever it wants, is it.

    I think Frum would be better off being dragged around by his testicles.

  • rbottoms

    More people died in Joplin, Missouri last week than in recent days in the conflict that’s been going on since before I was born will probably still be going on when I pass. Wouldn’t it be refreshing for David to be wailing about the human toll in a disaster in this country because I’m finding it hard to care a lot about the one that has his attention 24/7.

  • Traveler51

    [ American presidents have till now insisted that peace must be negotiated by the parties, rather than imposed by Washington. President Obama is departing from this major precedent

    Aside from the fact that a peace agreement is unlikely, Frum says Obama is straying from the course taken by previous American Presidents. How did that work out for those presidents?

  • LFC

    Israel refuses to negotiate under rocket attacks on their people, a perfectly reasonable position.

    Palestinians refuse to negotiate under territorial attacks in the form of ever expanding settlements, a perfectly reasonable position.

    But to apologists from either side, only one position is valid. I can’t take anybody seriously who thinks either of the two above requirements is unreasonable.

    • rbottoms

      How about the guys with the nuclear weapons stop expanding the settlements?

      We help protect them against the rocket attacks and anything major and they give negotiations a serious go. It sucks having to be the better man, but that’s life.

      Demographics alone say they have to do something.

      Hamas is an evil terrorist organization, which is pretty much ineffective in carrying out attacks. It sucks to be at war, but you are, in a war in which 20 people died last year? Horrible, but as we told the Iraqis, that’s what happens in war.

      Build the highest tech defenses around the 1967-ish borders, station NATO troops around them and end this already. We don’t hate Israel, we’re just sick of absolutely nothing changing.

      If they never recognize Israel, but the state is secure against attack, what the hell is the difference? You think everyone in Northern Ireland suddenly stopped hating the Brits? Maybe another 40 years living in tents will exhaust the other.

      In any case, I do not want a full scale war to break out and absent some major changes that’s exactly where this is headed.

  • valkayec

    Mr. Frum, given the changing demographics in Israel as noted in Foreign Policy magazine (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67863/daniel-levy/same-netanyahu-different-israel), it becomes implausible that the US, or any country, will be able to foster peace between the Palestinians and Jews. Plus, the old Israel we all thought we knew isn’t that same Israel today.

    Over two years ago, Bob Simon told Charlie Rose that a two state solution was probably lost and gone forever. He’s probably right. The Foreign Policy article serves to confirm what Simon told Rose in Jan. ’09.

    Given this information, perhaps the US policy towards Israel and Palestine does need to be revised.

  • nuser

    “Israel refuses to negotiate under rocket attacks on their people.” Hm.. well.. Just how many israelis did these rockets maim or kill? How many Palestinians died or was maimed ? Did you ever see the aftermath of israeli strikes ? Crissake they were horrendous. Sometimes I wonder about those unsophisticated rockets, they never seem to do real damage to Israel. You don’t suppose Israel is up
    to something?

  • advocatusdiaboli

    And what exactly has Israel done for us to earn it’s $3 billion a year we’ve been paying for decades plus having “stolen” our plutonium to make it’s bombs (something any other nation would have been bombed over)? The promised stability in the region? No. Help convert Arab monarchies to democracy? No. So exactly how is the $3 billion a year worth it? It’s not. Time for Israel to deliver or shut up and get cut off.

    • Bunker555


      • hisgirlfriday

        $3 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to the taxpayer dollars and American lives lost to wars and terrorism as part of our commitment to this alliance with Israel that as far as I can tell only exists just so our elected politicians of both parties can collect AIPAC donations.

  • nuser

    Here is a thought:
    If all politicians were laid end to end ,
    I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • nuser

    David is not a loyal american, it is that simple.

  • hisgirlfriday

    I would be very curious to hear the answer to the question from David Frum whether he thinks a reelected President Barack Obama or a President Sarah Palin would be better for Israel and the Middle East.

    Even if he disagrees with Obama on the language of this borders speech (for partisan reasons) and mistrusts Obama on Israel generally, can he really think someone like Palin who didn’t even know Bethlehem was located in Palestinian territory when she visited would be a better person than Obama leading the country that is Israel’s closest ally? I would like to hear the answer.

  • pnumi2

    Fellow citizens, we can not escape history. That is what he said. That is what Ronald Reagan said.

    In an address delivered on September 1, 1982 President Ronald Reagan said:

    “In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again… So the United States will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and we will not support annexation or permanent control by Israel.

    There is, however, another way to peace. The final status of these lands must, of course, be reached through the give-and-take of negotiations; but it is the firm view of the United States that self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan offers the best chance for a durable, just and lasting peace.It is the United States’ position that – in return for peace – the withdrawal provision of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza. When the border is negotiated between Jordan and Israel, our view on the extent to which Israel should be asked to give up territory will be heavily affected by the extent of true peace and normalization and the security arrangements offered in return. Finally, we remain convinced that Jerusalem must remain undivided, but its final status should be decided through negotiations.”

    The Wise and Wonderful Oz was in office another 6 years and bubkes (Yiddish: less than nothing) flowed from the WH andfrom the Promised Land like milk and honey.

    And now Obama is trying to do what Reagan hardly tried to do, and the Jewish and Gentile Zionist Hypocrites are shouting their calumnies at him, while the reasonable world watches them, agasp at their blatent favoritism.

  • pnumi2

    Even if a two-state solution only has the dimmest chance of success, it is heads and shoulders above a one-state solution, which is the very opposite of a solution — the recreation of South Africa with apartheid, something no real Zionist would ever object to, and actually prays for right after lighting the shabbat candles.

    This is the real tragedy of the Holocaust then: That it turned most of the Jewish survivors into a sadistic, vendetta-loving people, who, unable to get back at the Germans, have caged the Palestinians and whipped them into a frenzy of hatred.

    Zionists of today and yesterday are the living proof of Nietzsche’s observation: “He who fights too long against dragons, becomes a dragon himself.”

  • srgolub

    David – I’m curious (and disappointed) that you’ve gone from this post when you were live-tweeting Obama’s State Dept. speech – “Q: anything in that speech I didn’t like? A: Barely a word” to sounding like a Fox News pundit. You’re bashing Obama’s speeches as if he somehow broke new ground or departed from the policies of Clinton or your former employer GWB. Is praising or at least not disparaging Obama really that painful for you?