Two takeaways from President Obama’s speech this morning to AIPAC, one atmospheric, one substantive (although atmosphere is a substantive as substance when it comes to the presidency and AIPAC):
Here’s the key atmospheric takeaway : Obama’s "explanation" of his line in his speech Thursday, got standing applause. Not the whole room, half the room.
Here’s the line from Thursday’s speech, repeated today:
The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
And here’s Obama’s elaboration today:
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967
Notice any difference? Neither do I.
Well, unless you trace an arc from "by definition" to "different." This amounts to an assurance that there will not be a return to the 1967 borders. Martin Indyk, in a panel following the speech, says this essentially amounts to meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand, following the Thursday speech, that he "expects" Obama to recommit to President George W. Bush’s 2004 letter recognizing the "realities" of the larger settlements.
The atmospherics are important because about half the room stood up in applause to Obama’s elaboration.
But, during the panel, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens got extended applause for these lines:
The question of the 1967 lines, I dont think is as innocent as the president laid it out earlier today.
The issue isn’t where the lines are drawn, the issue is the nature of the Palestinian state.The one Arab society in which he didn’t call for reform is the Palestinian society — that’s problematic.
So, the atmospheric summing up — a truce (a hudna?): When Obama is in the room, AIPAC is supportive. When he is out of the room, skeptical.
That said, Indyk got applause lines for pushing back against Stephens’ claims that Obama was not aggressive enough on rejecting a Palestinian right of return. Indyk says there’s no other way to parse Obama’s repeated invocation of a "Jewish state of Israel."
The substantive takeaway (confirmed to me by a senior administration official after the speech): Obama is doing this to protect Israel as the Palestinian effort to secure recognition for statehood gains momentum.
Here’s the key quote from Obama this morning:
The march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. So, in advance of a five day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.