There’s been a lot of back and forth between Republicans and Democrats over whether President Obama’s "1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps" formulation is new or not.
I believe it represents a substantive — if subtle — break with his recent predecessors. The way I’ve put it as that while Obama’s predecessors have recognized the 1967 lines as a Palestinian aspiration, Obama has embraced those lines (again, with swaps) as U.S. policy.
Now, recognizing the 1967 lines as a Palestinian aspiration — as President George W. Bush did — is not nothing, so I have some sympathy for the view that Republicans have overblown to a degree Obama’s shift.
It is not nothing because Palestinians have plenty of aspirations, but the ones recognized by the world’s single remaining superpower accrue legitimacy. Neither Bush nor Obama nor any of their predecessors (with the possible exception of — of all presidents — Harry Truman) recognized a Palestinian "right of return," for instance.
So Obama’s embrace of "1967 lines with swaps" is substantive, it matters — but it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It should also be said that some of the parameters he embraced as U.S. policy favor Israeli positions, including a non-militarized Palestinian state and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
That all said, a Jewish Democrat just called — and it turns out there is a precedent for "1967 lines with swaps." Not only that, it emerges from a Republican administration — and is actually considerably less deferential to how Israel would perceive its needs.
The problem for Democrats who might want to use this is that It is also ancient — it is the Rogers plan, dating from 1969, in Richard Nixon’s first term, and framed by his secretary of state, William Rogers.
It’s not quite academic, in the sense that it is not as removed from present day realties as Truman’s demand that Israel allow in as many as 100,000 Palestinian refugees in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s independence.
But it must also be said that the realities on the ground now are substantively different than they were in 1969, and not just demographically — ideologically as well. As recalcitrant as the famous Arab "noes" of the time were, they do not approach Hamas’ Islamist recidivism.
Still, it’s worth comparing the Rogers plan to Obama’s parameters. While Obama, in his speech to AIPAC, emphasized a "different" border to the 1967 lines, Rogers’ envisioned differences were explicitly "insubstantial":
We believe that while recognized political boundaries must be established, and agreed upon by the parties, any change in the pre-existing lines should not reflect the weight of conquest and should be confined to insubstantial alterations required for mutual security. We do not support expansionism. We believe troops must be withdrawn as the Resolution provides. We support Israel’s security and the security of the Arab States as well. We are for a lasting peace that requires security for both.
UPDATE: Yet another Democrat has called and pointed to a George W. Bush formulation on the 1967 lines, and asked me what the substantive difference is.
Here’s Bush, after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on May 26 2005:
Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to.
Here’s Obama on May 19:
We believe 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.
I think there is still a substantive difference, although perhaps not as great as I originally thought.
"Changes must be agreed to" is a passive formulation — and as such defers parameters to the negotiators. "We believe … based on the 1967 lines" is a statement of U.S. policy.
So Obama sets parameters for negotiations. The Bush formulation is … well, practically meaningless. Of course, in the course of reaching an agreement, changes must be agreed to.
What the Bushies seemed to be doing here is to signal that there are parameters (the 1949/1967 lines), while stopping short of embracing those parameters as U.S. policy.
That’s still a difference. But it’s one that reinforces the notion that Obama’s shift — while substantive — is nonetheless a progression from established policy and not a break with it.