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The week that was

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Rerun on the ’67 lines

The brouhaha over President Obama’s call last week for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement "based on 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps" died down after Obama stressed in his speech Sunday to AIPAC that his position meant the border should not return to the pre-1967 lines, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had called the pre-1967 lines "indefensible," decided instead to focus on the positive in Obama’s speeches.

What made last week’s commotion by the Israeli leader more than a little puzzling is that this is not the first time the Obama administration has publicly espoused that position.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a nearly identical call last November — in a joint statement posted on the website of Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Nov. 11, 2010:

The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that "the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement.

Bibi in the U.S.: No lure for the Palestinians

Several weeks ago, when  Netanyahu scheduled this week’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, many Israelis and American Jews hoped the prime minister would announce some sort of proposal that would lure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, with an eye toward derailing the Palestinian plan to seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations in September. But then Fatah, the faction that controls the Palestinian Authority, reached a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and the pressure came off Netanyahu to make some sort of grand gesture.

When he spoke in Congress on Tuesday, Netanyahu delivered a forceful argument for why Israel represents a democratic model for the Middle East, why Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons must be confronted and why the Palestinian Authority must drop its affiliation with Hamas. Congress greeted him warmly, and it was the sort of speech Israel’s defenders would do well to deliver on college campuses across the country.

What was absent was anything to convince the Palestinians — or their many supporters around the world — that sitting down and talking with Netanyahu would be better than taking the case for statehood directly to the United Nations.

So around the world — and on some editorial pages in Israel and America — the speech was seen as a setback to bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It also may make it more difficult for the Obama administration to convince European nations — apparently seen as a moral force in the U.N. — to side with America and Israel in opposing the Palestinian U.N. bid.

Despite the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to sit down with Israel and preference for an alliance with Hamas, Netanyahu delivered a speech that made him sound like the intransigent party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Palestinians, having been offered more land by previous Israeli prime ministers, appear to be waiting Bibi out.

Iran: Back on the Agenda?

In both of their speeches to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, President Obama and Netanyahu sought to shift focus back to Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. Eclipsed in recent months by reporting on the Arab Spring, the Iran problem showed some signs of attention this week.

The European Union announced expanded sanctions against entities believed to be acting as front companies for Iran. On Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency formally announced that Tehran has been working on constructing a trigger mechanism for a nuclear weapon. The United States announced sanctions against several new companies for dealing with Iran, including one from Israel

Syria on the outs

The EU also announced new sanctions against the Syrian regime, which has killed hundreds of protesters over the last two months. Even Turkey, which in recent years has been building close ties with Damascus, came down hard on Syria.

Signs of change in Egypt

The new Egyptian regime announced this week it would permanently reopen the border with Gaza. Though this change didn’t get much media attention, it effectively ends the seige of the Hamas-run strip. Now that goods from cellphone chargers to rocket material no longer need to be smuggled through secret tunnels running under the border, Israel faces a new challenge in trying to stem the flow of weaponry into the territory.

Jews of Joplin safe

The two Jewish brother who were reported missing after this week’s devastating tornadoes hit Joplin, Mo. were found. Between the missing and the dead, the death toll from the single-deadliest tornado disaster in U.S. history is expected to reach into the hundreds.

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