I’m getting a lot of emails from Democrats about my earlier post on President Obama and the "1967 lines with land swaps" policy.
First, I have to deal with the grief I give my myself in the same post. I say Obama is breaking with his predecessors — and then, in an update, I say he is not, his policy is a progression.
So let me first resolve my own issues: Saying that basing negotiations on 1967 lines is U.S. policy is a progression from predecessors who said that the Palestinians legitimately aspired to 1967 lines — but it is also a break from same predecessors’ reluctance to embrace those lines as policy.
Now let me get to the emails.
One correspondent says to be fair I should add that Obama adds that "no solution could be imposed and that the parties would have to negotiate a solution themselves."
Fair enough. I did note that Obama set parameters that favored the Israelis — in fact, quantitavely, more of his parameters favored the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The Israeli "gets": No delegitimization of Israel. No unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state or even recognition of a Palestinian state without negotiations. No role for Hamas unless it renounces terrorism. A non-militarized Palestinian state. No Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank until Israel is satisfied with security arrangements. Israel as a Jewish state.
The "gets" for the Palestinians: The 1967 lines and contiguity. There’s nothing more than a passing reference to settlement building.
Still: When a U.S. president begins a sentence with "We believe" and modifies a verb with the obligative "should," he is setting policy.
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.
And Israel cannot ignore policy when it is set by its most important ally and the world’s sole superpower.
What’s more, when Israeli and Arab negotiators get together, there are two certainties: There will be unbridgeable differences and the United States will bridge them. Under Obama’s parameters, those U.S. bridging proposals are now underpinned by an assumption that they will be based on the 1967 lines.
Another correspondent wants me to quote a fuller version of George W. Bush’s 2005 pronouncement, especially the sentence I’ve put in bold:
Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.
So Bush is being forceful, yes — but about what? Contiguity, linkages between the West Bank and Gaza — and a need to agree on changes to the 1949 armistice lines.
Bush’s formulation begins by deferring parameters to the parties. These parameters will necessarily change the 1967 (or 1949) lines, he says, and the parties must agree to those changes.
Obama’s formulation reverses the process: He says the parameters begin with the 1967 lines and calls on the negotiators to work outwards.
Under Bush’s formulation, an Israeli negotiator can look at a 2011 map, assess what Israel holds, and calculate what it can safely keep and what it can "generously" cede.
Under Obama’s formulation, the same negotator starts with the 1967 map, compares it to the 2011 map — and argues Israel’s case for keeping certain areas.
That’s a substantive difference.
Again, Obama sets similar burdens for the Palestinians: They must rationalize all their sovereign claims (to authority over the airwaves, the roads, the waters, the skies) as "non-militarized." They must satisfy Israeli precepts of secure borders.
The difference, overall, is in the intensity of U.S. involvement.