Obama's Mistake

Ari Shavit identifies a problem in President Obama's Thursday speech -- not a mistake having to do with the disagreement over '67 borders, but a mistake about sequencing. He mainly found it to be a useful speech:

On a fundamental level, Obama's speech was good for Israel. He blocked the Palestinian initiative to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state. He condemned the Palestinian effort to delegitimize Israel. He came out against Hamas. He did not demand a total and immediate freeze on settlement construction. He did not embrace the Arab peace initiative. He showed that he has internalized Israel's security problems and defense concerns. Above all, he adopted the two main principles of Israel's peace doctrine: Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as a demilitarized state.

But he states that the vague formula Obama proposed could lead to conflict:

Without intending any harm, Obama presented Israel with a suicidal proposition: an interim agreement based on the 1967 borders. It's a proposal that runs along the same lines as the Hamas offer of a hudna - a long-term cease-fire. It's a proposal that will result in certain conflict in Jerusalem and in the inundation of Israel with refugees. It's a proposition that spells an end to peace, an end to stability and an end to the State of Israel.

Obama did not mean anything bad by it. Justified opposition to the occupation and his built-in suspicions of Netanyahu caused him to make an honest mistake. Consequently, he mixed elements of the permanent settlement with those of the interim agreement. He put 1 and 1 together and got 11, making a dramatic political error that an American president cannot afford to make. He formulated a plan that Kadima, Labor and even Meretz voters cannot support. He gave a speech that provides a clear victory to the Israeli right and plays into the hands of the American right. He scored an own goal.

The good news is that it is not too late. The mistake can be easily corrected, the day can be saved. Obama and Netanyahu need not confront each other before the cameras, as they did on Friday. They must show maturity and wisdom and face the crisis as if it were an opportunity. They must find a way of restoring the principle of 1967 to its correct place and enable Netanyahu to accept it. If they do this, the light in Obama's speech will once again shine brightly. And it will provide Israelis, Palestinians and Americans with a genuine ray of hope.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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