Obama's Mistake

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/obamas-mistake/239263/