Obama Throws Palestine Under The Bus As World Hails His Courage
Published on: May 22, 2011
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  • Every now and then I read an analysis that leaves me shaking my head and saying, “Damn! So THAT’S what just happened.” This is one of those.

  • Bruce

    We can analyze the Israeli/Palestinian question forever. There is very little chance for peace when one party calls for the destruction of the other and is unwilling to move off that premise. Disputes like this are normally settled when one side imposes its will militarily on the other. Politicians seem to think this one can be different. It’s hard to see it.

  • nadine

    I cannot agree with your assessment, Mr. Mead. Obama (unintentionally perhaps) picked a fight with Netanyahu last Thursday; and yesterday Netanyahu won Round 2, eloquently telling Obama ‘NO’. Today Obama backed down at AIPAC, giving Bibi Round 3. We’ll see how Round 4 goes when Bibi gives his speech to AIPAC.

    Obama’s Thursday speech bashed Israel because he turned the 67 borders into a precondition; this is what all the reports picked up on. As with the settlements freeze fiasco, Obama got ahead of the Palestinians; now they can’t demand or accept less than 100% of the West Bank because the US President says that Israel owes it to them.

    Notably, Obama did NOT demand the Palestinians recognize Israel or give up the right of return. Saying that Israel can’t be expected to negotiate with someone who doesn’t recognize them is useless when he nevertheless demands negotiations resume, even though Hamas is adamant that it will never recognize Israel.

    For too long the ‘international community’ has played by the rulebook where the Palestinians are graded on a pass/fail curve where failure is not an option; whatever they do is considered good enough to demand the next Israeli concession. Obama’s speech on Thursday played right into this game. In effect, he shifted the US position on I/P borders towards the Palestinian demands as a reward for them forming a unity government with Hamas.

    ADL may be playing along with the White House line, but when such notable Jewish Democrats as Ed Koch and Alan Dershowitz come out swinging, the White House knows it has problems. Or why else did Obama try to back down today at AIPAC?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Obama’s change of policy came before his original speech as far as I can see; nor do I see any real policy differences between his two speeches this week. I don’t actually think either Mayor Koch or Professor Dershowitz mean much to President Obama. Their support won’t help him much with his re-election and their opposition can’t block it.

  • John

    “President Obama stressed that he does not support the Palestinian plan to have the UN declare Palestine a state in the fall, and that the US will work to block that strategy and resist efforts to isolate Israel.”

    Is this something the US can veto in the Security Council? If so, will he veto or abstain?

  • Dimitry

    A couple of points.
    1. As you say, symbolism means a lot in the ME. Codifying the ’67 lines into official policy basically caters to the Palestinian longstading position. It may be not much in practical terms, but it is still important, as the Palestinians themselves promptly showed by demanding Netanyahu accept this or there won’t be any negotiations.
    2. The more important and problematic bit was the idea to produce a settlement on borders and security without solving the refugee and Jerusalem issues. As Ari Shavit noted, this is very similar to what Hamas pushes with the “hudna” or what the PA want to achieve with UN recognition — i.e to recieve the status of a state without compromising on the core issues and from the vantage point of a state to continue diplomatic and non-diplomatic (such as those on the Nakba day)attacks against Israel.

  • nadine

    Mayor Koch or Professor Dershowitz are barometers of liberal Jewish opinion. Both made a point of vouching for Obama as a friend of Israel in 2008. Both now say he has not acted as a friend of Israel in office.

    It is not so much that they sway large numbers of voters; but they represent large numbers of the kind of voter that Obama will need in order to carry Florida again in 2012.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Dear Professor Mead,

    The President’s speech was awkward. It demonstrated, I think, the immaturity of his writing staff.

    Far more significant is the reaction. In the past few days stories have appeared that alluded to growing discontent amongst major Jewish contributors. Add to this Richard Trumka’s statement that Labor was putting the Dems on notice that they weren’t doing enough.

    Obama has become a patsy. Netanyahu gave him a dressing down that matched the best I’ve gotten in the last 50 years. Deer in the headlights? Unfortunately we are all in the herd.


  • S. Clark

    You have an interesting analysis that seems to boil down to this: Obama’s statements in regarding ’67 border as a starting point for negotiation is an uncontroversial and well-known tenant of US policy in the region – as if that was the only thing he spoke of. And yet you acknowledge that there has been a volcanic eruption surrounding this. I might quibble with the assertion that this is the only thing that prompted the eruption. But, if his statement of policy is as well-known and uncontroversial as you suggest, then how to do explain the eruption? You would like to attribute it to Glen Beck and others like him. I think this is a bit disingenuous of you. As you are well aware there are serious people who have objected. How do you explain their objections? You can’t seriously assert their ignorance. Bad faith? All of them? Really? Would that be your argument?

    The (gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks.

  • Omar Ibrahim Bakr


    I totally agree with the writer that ” This ( reference to 1967 borders) is standard diplospeak boilerplate. It is a non-statement, a platitude, even a bromide. ”

    I further agree that the USA did never in the past respect its own words or publicly declared positions whether coming from the White House or the State Department.

    Invariably the USA has negated and nullified, in spirit and in words, both its declared political positions and public declarations through:
    -ACTION: continued unbridled political, economic/financial and military assistance; Veto or threat of Veto at the UNSC , hasty withdrawal of its Freezing of Settlements initiative etc
    -INACTION: as for resounding silence, meaning implicit agreement, about Annexation of Jerusalem, Construction of Settlements and the Wall, relentless demolition of homes and deportation and assassination of Palestinians etc etc

    Palestinians at large never did nor will ever have any illusions about the USA.
    This general public consensus seems to have been joined recently by the domesticated Palestinian PA &PLO leadership in a move obliviously meant to ward off imminent total political and public extinction.

    The issue of the Palestine/Israel conflict is no longer an international, or
    transnational, issue as much as it is an internal American issue pitting elements in successive USA administrations against Israel, AIPAC and allies in successive administrations.
    Therein certainly lays Palestinian “NO ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE USA”

    The USA seems to have been openly told recently that it is receiving bad advice from some of its closest advisers within the administration; possibly the first time the question of American incoherence and internal conflicts is broached officially in official talks.
    Possibly by mentioning the unmentionable, 1967 borders, rumoured to have been strenuously opposed by Denis Ross, President Obama is tentatively bringing the conflict to the surface.
    Here possibly lays a crucial American development worthy of close follow up!

  • Jack

    Everything that Obama says comes with an expiration date. Everything.

  • Carl Liff

    Lending credence to your take is report that Bibi heard about contents of speech beforehand and complained bitterly to Hillary about it – so they knew ahead of time how the language would be interpreted and that they’d be pissing off conservatives and that’s what they wanted – this comports with idea that foreign policy is just an idealist afterthought for Obama and he’s ultimately all and only about left wing political machinations. It’s also possible they may have felt that a speech that was seen as being vaguely ‘pro-Palestinian’ might help in getting some European countries on board in opposing the September statehood resolution.

    It’s also possible that they simply have no sense or appreciation of how politics in the Mideast is all about ‘symbolism’ – so, regardless of the ‘reality’, in the end all that matters is that the speech appeared to throw Israel under the bus – certainly, in hardening their negotiating position, the Palestinians think Israel has been undermined.

    And so, assuming Israel has indeed been undermined here, the question for us is: is Obama incompetent, channeling his inner Alinsky and thus too narrowly focused on his domestic political fortunes at the cost of ignoring broader strategic considerations, or like a true left winger convinced that Israel is merely a fragile surrogate of American imperialism in the Mideast and therefore ultimately not worth defending?

    I’m not sure if both Israeli and Palestinian powers haven’t come to the conclusion that no matter how one answers that question the end result is the same – Israel is increasingly isolated and Palestinians think they hold a winning hand come September. I think the heated response from Israel viz this speech is a consequence of them believing things are trending in a very scary way and that their erstwhile security partner, the person sitting in The White House, is ideologically predisposed to either not understand that or not care to understand that.

    I know that when the Egyptian crisis happened Israel saw immediately what was going on – the Arab spring was an illusion, the Egyptian military leveraged the illusion to get rid of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood would be the ultimate winners, Israel’s security would be threatened – that’s exactly how it played out – whereas the Obama administration still seems either at a loss regrading what it’s doing and why or horribly misguided in judging the wisdom of its choices.

  • JohnMc

    Interesting political assessment. It however does not recognize how weak a position starting with the ’67 borders are. That’s like having a pair of deuces hoping you fill an inside straight. It ain’t happening. You negotiate down not up.

    The US policy in the ME has been pretty much wrong from the beginning. For that I can’t fault Obama for it spans to a point starting with Kissinger. The US does not understand the concept of blood feud. We think in geo-political concepts but that is not what is in play here. Till that is recognized, good luck.

  • JC

    Diplomacy is often about papering-over differences to allow for constructive dialogue. No American president would ever openly state the obvious fact that Taiwan is an independent country, for example. It’s also obvious that the 67 borders have always been tacitly understood as a starting point for negotiation, but quite a different matter to openly state it (especially for an American president who is not one of the parties involved in the dispute). Obama and his people had to know what kind of reaction they would get, so it looks like this was designed as a deliberate insult to the current Israeli Prime Minister. It seems to have worked! If the idea was to advance the peace process, this was about the dumbest thing he could have done.

    But, in the end, this all doesn’t matter much since the inescapable fact is that there is no peace process, never has been, never will be. It’s actually worse than chasing a carrot at the end of a stick that is forever just out of reach. The carrot itself is a mirage. I think most people, deep down, know this, yet the carrot’s call seems to bewitch every American president abetted by a large chunk of Foggy Bottom devoted to its worship. It’s the definition of insanity incarnate.

  • teapartydoc

    I will admit to not reading the entire article. The first two paragraphs were all I needed. Mr. Mead is a student of foreign policy that takes the state department policy wonk position as accepted truth. The fact is that there is and has almost always been a divide between the department and the policy that the public thinks is the right one. People know that the foreign policy of a free country must at least be an approximation of the mind of the nation as a whole. On this and several other issues the policy that is accepted as bromidic by the mandarins does not even come close to popular opinion. I understand that those on the inside have their needs and that one of them is for a certain amount of continuity in policy, but the wonk policy should NEVER be shoved down the throat of the public, or those allies the public supports to a greater extent than the insiders. Let’s be REALISTS here.

  • ThomasD

    Obama’s word choice when referencing the 1967 was rather inept. Either he did not appreciate the subtleties required, or he was intentionally inflamatory.

    That he found himself needing to issue plaintive clarifications says it was the former. A truly eloquent and educated man would not have made such a gross rhetorical blunder.

    Sadly, more evidence that the type of President we were promised is not the President we currently have.

  • Zaggs

    I think the reason for criticizing Obama is two fold. First to Obama the 1967 borders are the end point, not the beginning of negotiations. Also Ehud Olmert already made the offer of land swaps in 2007, and was soundly rejected by the palestinians. Already the palestinians have dropped the “land swap” portion of the idea from the PR releases.

  • toadold

    While this might play well in the faculty lounge and with the Euroweine left, it will make the the Protestant Bible Belt even more agitated. While the mainline Christian churches are in decline the evangelicals and the fundamentalists are growing in numbers and they are very much Zionists. The numbers do not compute well for Obama come election time. The BosWash Corridor is not the whole of the USA.

  • Jay, beltway

    WRM, the so called 1967 lines are not the “basis of negotiations”. They might be the end product of negotiations, but are not the only possible result.
    UN resolution 242 does not require the Israeli military to leave all of the “territories occupied in the recent conflict”. They left out the word “the” on purpose.

    Israel is allowed, under UNSCR 242, to retain the territories needed to ensure security. Obviously when they make a peace agreement they will withdraw from most of them, and when they are being attacked they must retain them to protect their citizens.

    Israel’s negotiating position has been to exchange territory for cessation of terrorism and incitement, recognition, and normal relations. To this wit they have offered almost all of the land over the 1949 lines as a bargaining chip over and over.

    What Obama did was announce that US policy is that territory not a factor to negotiate over, but a precondition for negotiations. He told the palestinians they deserve all of it, so they will no longer accept anything less. This nullifies the land as a bargaining chip and hands it to the palestinian side.

    You should also note that UNSCR 242 requires the military to withdraw, not civilians who settled on the disputed land. The demand for judenrein state has no basis in international law.

  • Lester

    1) I don’t care if Hamas swears on a stack of bibles, you cannot trust what they say. PERIOD. Al-Takeyya.

    2) I do not think Obama has a clue as to what the “67 borders” mean. It is too nuanced for him. I wonder who put it on his teleprompter.

    3) The notion of a contiguous Pali-state that includes Gaza and the West Bank may work for an AA Haavaad grad but it flies in the face of high school geometry – unless you are considering a cleave of Israel.

    All hat and no cattle.

  • michael livingston

    I thought this was a childish column that added nothing by way of analysis and was offensive as well. Other than that, extremely well done.

  • Richard Aubrey

    I’m still not clear on the call for a contiguous Palestinian state, since that would make Israel non-contiguous. Is there some kind of map-magic that can avoid the latter while enabling the former?

  • Yahzooman

    I get depressed about the prospects for Middle East peace and then … I remember South Africa.

    When I lived there, both whites and blacks told me that a “holocaust was coming.” Pessimism ruled the day.

    Fortunately, wise men changed the dynamic. We need an F.W. DeKlerk and a Nelson Mandela in the Middle East.

    Then again, I like “Bambi” and “Casablanca,” too. Am I a hopeless romantic? Or can people overcome their prejudices and hatreds and live together?

    My answer is yes.

  • fred baumann

    Very intelligent but not entirely persuasive. You are right that in substance reference to the armistice lines as the beginning point of negotiations is both necessary and the standard view. And certainly Obama backed down here from earlier remarks to the effect that if Israel could get peace along the armistice lines she would have nothing to complain about. But precisely because he has identified himself in the past so strongly with that position (which explains in part his making an issue of Jewish “settlement” in Jerusalem past the Mandelbaum Gate),putting the emphasis on the armistice lines and then adding something about swaps sounds suspect. Hence the view above that he has made those lines the precondition and the Palestinian response that Israel now has to begin negotiations by accepting those lines. Quod licet Busho non licet Obamae. It seems at least to mean something else coming from him when he puts it as he does. Further, as Omri Ceren pointed out in the Commentary blog, the omission of reference to defensible boundaries is disturbing. Underneath all of this is the asymmetry by which Israel must always make concrete and strategically important concessions in return for promises which may, in the long run (cf. Egypt today and possibly tomorrow) not be kept. And finally, there is simply the trust factor. Some, apparently most, American Jews will trust Obama not to sell out Israel no matter what he does. Others of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, will not trust him no matter what he says.

  • A Berman

    With all due respect, you get the issue of longstanding policy on 67 borders in the speech backwards. Israel’s prImary negotiating asset is land. Thus, the 67 borders cannot be the starting point of negotiations– they can only be the Ending Point. By putting them in the speech, Obama made it the starting point. As evidence, Saab Erekat has now made the 67 borders a condition for Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. In other words…. starting point. Now what does Israel have left to get the Palestinians to give up “Right of Return”?

    Wherever his heart may be, Obama obviously never read a decent book on negotiating.

  • David N. Narr

    Mr. Mead, you’re a very smart man and I love most of what you write, but aren’t you getting a little ahead of History here? To paraphrase commenter Asher Abrams above: Damn, so that’s what you THINK just happened. We’ll see.

  • Michael Schwenk

    The problem is the “consensus” about the 1967 borders was established by the State Department, not by the American voter. Obama just tripped over the fact that what the Foreign Service advises Presidents to do will often be very unpopular with actual voters.

  • Tom Kinney

    You don’t shout fire in a crowded theatre. That’s the meaning, and the only meaning, of the reaction against Obama’s ’67 lines.

    It doesn’t matter that the theatre isn’t on fire. You don’t say certain things at certain times and under certain circumstances, period!

    Israel is terrified of the Arab Spring and they should be. Egypt is deteriorating quickly. If this is the long awaited reformation, then know this. Reformations are only good things in hindsight. In their day, they are ugly and violent and engender counterreformations. In that context, Al Qaeda is the modern version of the Spanish Inquisition.

    Look for more Spanish Inquisition as an unintended consequence of the Arab Spring before things get better…which they will, eventually.

  • carl

    from the article;

    The criticism and the doubts coming from the hawkish pro-Israel camp at the moment have much more to do with doubts about Obama himself than with anything he said this week.

    exactly, and they apparently realize something you don’t appear to acknowledge sir; he is in campaign mode.

    Obama’s first ‘best gut’ reaction is to sympathize with whomever has been assoc. with US ‘imperialistic tendencies’ by proxy or otherwise.

    The finality of the 04 exchanges between Sharon and Bush contain the term 1967 no where…though it had before hand……

    Now, after Abbas and Hamas fall into each others arms he chooses to use it? There is a time and place, this was not it.

    He has learned to become more elusive and play both ends against the middle, hes done a fine job of it here.*claps*

    The only problem is it solves ‘his’ problem not Palastines or Israels.

  • Adam Garfinkle

    Yes, Jewcentricity strikes again. And again and again.

  • asdf

    As always with this President, there is a crisis, a Big Speech, and then a period of head-scratching as we try to parse his rhetoric.

    Gone are the days when he promised that Jerusalem would be the “eternal, undivided capital” of Israel. But that almost-forgotten episode is instructive. In retrospect, it was clearly a feint designed to reassure American Jews that he was pro-Israel. Still, I’m not sure pouring through his speech sentence-by-sentence or trying to read the tea leaves to divine his true feelings will really accomplish anything.

    What were we expecting coming out of his policy speech last week? Well, first and foremost, the US position on the Arab Spring, including criteria for when and how we would intervene. We’ve been undermining some allied regimes, ignoring others, bombing backwater Libya, and yet have remained strangely silent on declared enemies Iran and Syria. The last two are particularly galling: here are genuine strategic threats, a happy case where we can support our idealistic goals while pursuing our strategic interests. So where are we?

    What we got was basically a reiteration of the policy we fell into, without any clarity about how it might fit into a coherent strategic approach. The “tough talk” Obama delivered to Iran and Syria is only tough by Obama’s fawning standards– he’s even sticking to his claim that Assad is a closet reformer, a position no one outside the white house has entertained in years. Bombing in Libya will continue, Congress be damned, and we’re still not clear on exactly what we’re doing there or why. His speech reneges on his Cairo policy of abandoning humanitarian considerations in foreign policy, but that was already clear when he intervened in Libya.

    One gets the impression of a man trapped by events, afraid to commit himself, attacking easy targets of minimal strategic import, but shrinking from foes that might actually confront him. President Obama has always had a dilettantish quality, and now more than ever he strikes me as another Louis Napoleon. Contrast his approach towards Italian unification with Obama’s mideast strategy. Let’s hope the haunting parallels stop before Germany.

    On the Israel front, I simply can’t see his speech as pro-Israel in any way. All the pro-Israel rhetoric was just that, rhetoric. The only two substantive positions were that the US would oppose the UN resolution in the fall (NOT opposing it would have been unthinkable for any US administration except this one), and imposing the 1967 borders. The key thing to keep in mind is that all Israel’s concessions will be clear and up front, before the Palestinians even reach the bargaining table. The conditions, such as they are, that Obama asks of the Palestinians are vague and in the future– after an agreement is reached, and certainly after he’s left office. In one place, he acknowledges that the Israelis would be crazy to negotiate with a group intent on their destruction, and in another, he demands just that. He’s replaced the “land for peace” formula with a “land now, peace later” plan that is daft on a level that you’d expect from a bored undergraduate, not the President of the United States. One place I do agree with you is that in the long run, the Palestinians will be the ones to suffer from this policy.

    By the measure of what we might have expected of the speech, whether we’re talking about the Arab Spring or Israel, the speech was a disappointment. Only on the issue of Iraq, where Obama appears to have adopted President Bush’s rhetoric entirely, were there any pleasant surprises.

  • Label

    Why not use reality as the starting point of neogtiations, namely the current boundaries? The reason why Obama threw Israel under the bus is the “starting point” (under Obama)has Israel taking one step backwards resulting in the Palestinians starting out one step ahead. Further starting points many times wind up as ending points. So why not use a starting point that at least has some chance of being acceptable to the Israelis?

  • vdorta

    The glow of current events blinds inexperienced people like Obama, and therefore prevents them from seeing the future. Please check on Spengler’s two latest articles over at Asia Times.

  • As always, a fascinating and insightful analysis, that left em questioning my own assumptions about the speeches.

    My first impression, upon scanning Thursday’s address, was that it wasn’t really all that bad, from an Israel point of view. And Podhoretz posited that Obama really though he had given a pro-Israel speech.

    Nevertheless, there’s a reason the Palestinians immediately called an emergency meeting to accept negotiations on the basis that Obama had laid out (along with additional freezes). Obama effectively moved the starting point for negotiations from the status quo to the 1967 borders. This means that any Israel concessions of West Bank land aren’t concessions at all.

  • S.Clark

    Glenn Kessler does share his first name with Glenn Beck, so I suppose that explains his belief that “(i)n the context of this history, Obama’s statement Thursday represented a major shift”.


  • JLK

    Very disappointing Dr Mead.

    As you (correctly) stated in the previous article, perception is everything in the Middle East. And Obama’s past statements and even his middle name are cause for mistrust among Israelis. Just read a few articles about the Israeli “street” reaction to his speeches and you will see what I mean.

    As you have stated there will never be a peace settlement unless Israel has a partner that it can trust. The cacaphony of anti-Semitism led by Europe and the Middle East has made the Israelis defensive and semi-paranoid. If their staunchest ally, the US, is PERCEIVED as going the other way, the Sabra Israelis, among the most stubborn people on earth, will circle the wagons in an “us against the world” stance. This will make any “Peace Process” DOA.

    As I mentioned previously, until the surrounding Arab states cut out the specious and hypocritical “support” for the Palestinians, there is no chance anyway. Their use of the pathetic people of the West Bank and Gaza to create self-serving diversionary issues has been the dirty, unadmitted secret since Oslo and before.

    Now you support Obama using the excuse that he is successful in getting Netanyahu to do his work for him which is the kind of “elitist” claptrap you have condemned in the recent past.

    Sometimes a great mind like yours can over analyze and come up with conclusions that you understand, but the great majority around the world either does not see or rejects outright.

    I also disagree that world Jewry will not, eventually, see through the kneejerk Liberal fog and realize that Israel is the core and uniting nucleus of Jewish identity. Without Israel the Jews will once again become a disparate Diaspora of isolated communities, making them ripe for a reoccurence of Institutional anti-Semitism

  • Engineer

    It seems to me that the 1949 border issue is almost one of emphasis. There are UNSCR that endorse Israel obtaining “defensible” borders as part of Mideast Agreement. When it comes to the “sausage-making” negotiating of what the borders will look like, the Israeli’s start from considerations of defensibility and population while the Palestinians will start from demanding an overwhelming justification for deviating from the 1949 border. In terms of expectation, I think the Israeli’s see 10% to 20% of the West Bank switching while the Palestinians are certainly looking for something in the low single digits.

    This is confounded with a Hamas/PLO coalition in the PA now where the Arabic rhetoric is still about eliminating Israel, the sooner the better. If Obama wants to remove any doubts that he was serious about his commitment that Hamas should change its position, he should support ending all aid for the PA immediately. Otherwise, it raises double that his objections are simply rhetoric to lull Israel into complacency.

  • Naif Mabat

    A good article with many fine points.

    I especially liked the cheating husband analogy.

    Unfortunately, the O cannot just let his settlement freeze demand “go quietly away” anymore than you can let an embarrassingly contracted disease just go quietly away (continuing the cheating husband analogy).

    Fatah cannot walk back from this demand, as they’ve made clear, especially since it was O who talking them into making it in the first place. Their position has hardened, especially since the collapse of their benefactor Mubarak and their subsequent alliance with Hamas. Their response to the recent speech makes it clear that they interpret it more as a renewal of the freeze demand, than a renewal of Bush-era policy. Other Muslim countries have interpreted it the same way. And as you say, in the ME it’s symbolism that counts.

    And the Israeli position has clearly also hardened as a results of this speech. So with both sides doubling down, does this speech make peace (or even a new “process”) less or more likely, do you think?

    To complete the husband analogy: It’s not just the wife who’s mad at him. The other woman sees this as a renewed commitment to her. Her friends see it this way too. She is going to continue demanding gifts on a regular basis and sooner or later expects him to divorce his wife and marry her.

    The only benefit the husband has secured is popularity in Europe, where philandering is admired.

  • bHutchinson

    Mead, like Obama, missed the point, it is not about ’67 borders — it is about Palestinian culture. It is a culture of hate, murder and rejection. It is what they teach their children. Instead of defending Obama’s idea-challenged speech (why give it if it is the longstanding US policy) Mead should be discussing the impossibility of peace until pressure is put squarely on the Palestinians.

    Eric Cantor:
    “Stop naming public squares and athletic teams after suicide bombers. And come to the negotiating table when you have prepared your people to forego hatred and renounce terrorism — and Israel will embrace you. Until that day, there can be no peace with Hamas. Peace at any price isn’t peace; it’s surrender.”

  • kj_ca

    I have to say, WRM, up until now I had thought you were a person of balanced assessment capacities, with a clear and objective understanding of today’s political climate, coupled with a knowledgeable historical basis to give that understanding perspective.

    It is plain in this blog – from the painful twists you were put to, your dismissal of the impact on perceptions regarding US policy toward Israel resulting from Obama’s speech, and the very weak arguments you posed in defense of his “political” motives for same – that you are in fact “in the bag” for Obama.

    Either that, or your intellect has failed you on this subject to an astonishing degree.

    It is disappointing to learn your assessments are not to be trusted to be objective, unbiased, and knowledgeable.

    Regardless of the reason, since you have revealed yourself to be just another political “voice” for the current resident of the White House, I will not be following your blog any longer.

  • Luke Lea

    One measure of a good post is lots of interesting comments:

    @JohnMc: “The US does not understand the concept of blood feud. We think in geo-political concepts but that is not what is in play here.”

    @JC: “But, in the end, this all doesn’t matter much since the inescapable fact is that there is no peace process, never has been, never will be. It’s actually worse than chasing a carrot at the end of a stick that is forever just out of reach.”

    @Zaggs: “Ehud Olmert already made the offer of land swaps in 2007, and was soundly rejected by the palestinians.”

    @Jay: “Israel’s negotiating position has been to exchange territory for cessation of terrorism and incitement, recognition, and normal relations.”

    @Lester: “The notion of a contiguous Pali-state that includes Gaza and the West Bank may work for an AA Haavaad grad but it flies in the face of high school geometry . . .”

    @Yahzooman: “I get depressed about the prospects for Middle East peace and then … I remember South Africa.” [which makes you more or less depressed?]

    @fred baumann: “the omission of reference to defensible boundaries is disturbing. Underneath all of this is the asymmetry by which Israel must always make concrete and strategically important concessions in return for promises which may, in the long run (cf. Egypt today and possibly tomorrow) not be kept.”

    @Tom Kinney: “Israel is terrified of the Arab Spring and they should be. Egypt is deteriorating . . .” [the Saudis are funding 11 Salafist radion and t.v. stations at the moment in Egypt, according to this diavlog: http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/36324%5D

    @bHutchinson: “Mead, like Obama, missed the point, it is not about ’67 borders — it is about Palestinian culture. It is a culture of hate, murder and rejection. It is what they teach their children.”

    My two cents: is the Palestinian street any more likely to accept the final terms of Oslo today, land swaps and all, than eleven years ago? What’s in it for them?

    And by the way, has any thought been given to relocating Nato headquarters to the Gaza strip as part of a final deal? You laugh. How about the IMF, World Bank, International Court, WHO? How about a new Democratic League, a parliament of democracies? How else is one to build up the infrastructure of Gaza or create Palestinian employment opportunities. And where else could one find a similar pool of well-qualified international civil servants (counting the Isrealis too) to man such a set of international institutions?

    If you are going to be realistice, you gotta work with the materials you have.

  • Glen

    As usual, Professor Mead’s analysis is deadly accurate.

    Once again, the Obama White House is proving itself to be too clever. Just like with the birther controversy, they saw political gain and took actions which perpetuated that issue. But their strategy ultimately backfired. Obama was eventually forced to conclusively settle the controversy by releasing a copy of his original birth certificate.

    No doubt this too clever tactic will come back to bite him, too.

  • ARH

    As is too often the case with this otherwise stellar website, the fervent flock to a moderately right of center outlet – believing themselves to be thinkers because of the high quality of analysis and prose – and then drops epithet after epithet as if it’s redstate.com or foxnation. Of course Obama is just throwing the Israeli’s under the bus. That’s what he does. He’s dumb/evil/extremist/weak/pick your loaded word and insert here to justify in short hand why someone with an (R) after their name would be infinitely better (instead of working within similar confines).

    This is no bigger an announcement than the first time people uttered “two state solution” out loud. Everyone involved knows it, but until it gets spoken out loud, the idea can’t be normalized. WRM is right this this conflict has about zero chance of being solved on Obama’s watch, but he’s doing the responsible thing by molding, shaping, normalizing the eventual outcome by establishing recognized boundaries, precedents, and understandings. You can make sound points about some of his tactics or message related errors, but his general direction is considerably better than the status quo brigade. Two more generations of this and it will only devolve.

    Another good point WRM makes is about the so called “Israeli Lobby.” The imagery of a dreidel spinning cabal making sinister moves behind closed doors is more than disturbing (likewise, I’m no fan of Newts wink and nod to some of the more unsavory elements within the conservative movement with his “Food stamp President” comment). If there’s anyone in the U.S. chronically backing the Likud status quo it’s the always apocalyptic religious right. Be wary the supporters of Israel that rely too much on the political support of Pat Robertson or Glenn Beck for that matter.

  • The collusion between Israel and the US is great and will work in favor of Palestinians. We would have gotten shafted in any negotiations that the US “brokered.” We are probably at most years away from Palestinians telling the US that it is no longer welcome to negotiate anything on their behalf. That will be the first major step towards liberation. For whatever reason, no matter how many nobles Israelis like to point out that they have they were too stupid to realize that a 2-state solution would have screwed Palestinians yet benefited Israel greatly, their stupidity worked in our favor too.

  • Sam Lieberman

    You have chosen this moment and this issue to trust a president you have heretofore not trusted on other foreign policy and Middle East issues, not to mention every other issue you have criticized him on. You are effectively saying you would be able to do business with the Palestinians. You would be able to do business with leadership that chooses guns over butter and subjugates it’s women.

  • Anthony

    Given both “stellar website and high quality analysis and prose” consistently availed by WRM, ARH appears to have summed it up best @ 43!!!

  • steve.smith.tn

    I saw one reference calling for America to go back to its pre-August 21, 1959 border. Pretty funny.

  • Anthony

    President Obama neither throws Israel under the proverbial bus nor charts new foreign policy initiatives vis-a-vis generational conflict; the Israeli-Palestinian issue remains a black hole for any U.S. President. President Obama’s speech utilizes, as WRM says, Armistice Lines as framework going forward without assuming agreement between parties. Armistice Lines basis presupposes no new arrangements going forward only continuation ‘publicly’ of U.S./Israeli/Palestinian reference to “two state” solution as outcome of decades old conflict now subsumed by present Middle East contretemps. In essence, President Obama is tardily responding to Middle East facts on ground relative to lomg term U.S. foreign policy interests which starkly contrast with his point of view entering oval office. Nevertheless, he has moved.

  • Luke Lea

    Netanyahu’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress was powerful, even magnificent, suprisingly so I thought.

  • JLK


    Maybe I am just not smart enough, but I have no clue as to what ARH (#43) is talking about.

    I must be one of those dumb neocons…. hopefully with the “high quality analysis and prose”…. that cannot grasp the “nuance” (a favorite epithet of a well known 2.00 GPA Yale graduate) of his brilliant thinking.

    So maybe you could explain it to me?

    PS I could join the knuckledraggers over at Fox.com so I can feel/look smart…. or I know…I could start my own “epithets r us” right wing site.

    PPS Dr Mead: would not blame you for “86ing” this reply. I just get a little tired of the “I am Liberal therefore, by definition, I am smarter than you” refrain.

  • Omar Ibrahim Bakr

    Symbolism has very little to do with this Obama speech in particular and with Israeli/USA relations in general; whatever happens between the two is much more of an in house thing than anything else.
    The web of declared and undeclared Israel/USA relations is of a unique type rarely seen between two states on the international arena;not even between two states presumably belonging to the same ideological/political camp.
    It is something that binds both with far stronger bonds than what binds, say, the USA to the UK or Viet Nam to China
    There is little room for symbolism in a situation where:
    – one party has been categorical in rejecting any plan that will cost it that most precious enjeu: land, nor deduct and restrain from its total sovereignty over it
    -the other party is in substantial deep down conscious full agreement and has been for a long time but for a diversity of minor reasons cannot come out with it now.

    IT is much more a question of timing than symbolism.

    The situation here is a real charade enacted by both parties to a solid alliance that one party finds it necessary, from time to time, to give others a semblance of non alliance whereas his partner is fed up with this state of affairs and wants an unmistakable public declaration of an all out alliance.

    Very much like the tiff that occurs between the partners of a long standing affair with one party demanding marriage while the other , for reasons of his own attempts to save an appearance of independence for some time ,while not rejecting marriage in principle wants simply to postpone its public declaration.

  • RZS

    WRM’s analyses of U.S.-Israel relations are usually spot-on, but he continues to make the error of conflating left-wing Jewish intellectuals with the American Jewish community as a whole. Hendrik Hertzberg and certainly George Soros do not represent the community. Poll after poll have shown that American Jews are hawkish on Israel (not necessarily pro-settlement expansion, but definitely not for a “European” solution to the Mideast conflict), while being liberal on domestic policy.

    It’s not anti-Semitic to state this; in fact, it is somewhat weirdly ignorant of the realities of the U.S. Jewish community. Most American Jews support the AIPAC line (more or less) – what would be anti-Semitic is if one said that what AIPAC does is any different from what other influential lobbies do.

  • tpartynow

    [Despite its vicious and evil anti-Semitism I am running this comment from “tpartynow” as an example of just how stupid and careless in their thinking bigots can be. Apparently for nuts like “teapartynow” facts (like for example my ethic background) don’t matter. I am sure that many people are deeply offended that a raving anti-Semite like this pathetic cretin is claiming to represent the Tea Party. So brace yourselves, readers, for a nasty illiterate screed.]

    I have to laugh when a jewish journalist trots out the old “jews are conflicted on israel” lie but jews are smart enough to know their is a massive american backlash building against jews in america who are 100 loyal to israel (yes their are a handful who are not but not enough to mention) acting as a collective to further jewish interests is why post ww1 germany fought back,and every country who expelled them for the SAME reason,sorry every jew will be judged the same way in the end we are not buying your jews are not a monolith lies,jews will reap what they sow in america

  • perry chabliss

    [a second and even more inane and disgusting comment from the same person dishonestly posting under another alias omitted.]

  • Anthony

    JLK, know nothing about “I am Liberal therefore, by definition, I am smarter than you.” ARH summed up WRM’s consistency and spoke to imagery of dreidel as metaphor. Beyond website’s quality analysis and prose, I can’t speak for ARH.

  • Jay Leshefsky

    WRM suprisingly misses the point why this speech was so anti-Israel. And to say it was Obama’s most pro-Israel speech is to set the bar low to say the least.

    Once again Obama has made it clear that in his opinion that Israel is holding up peace. If not the settlements than its the border issues.

    But it is clear that the major obstacle to peace is that the Palestinians don’t want peace, they want a one state solution. This was clear when they refused Olmert’s offer of 100% of the West Bank (with land swaps) and parts of Jerusalem. And it could not have been made clearer than Abbas’ decision to form a unity government with Hamas whose goal is the destruction of Israel.
    The fact is that Netanyahu has stated that he would accept a Palestinian state – Abbas has not stated he would accept a Jewish one. Netanyahu has agreed to negotiations without conditions – Abbas will not negotiate.

    And why should Abbas negotiate when Obama does it for him. Instead of saying that the borders should be negotiated by the parties themselves Obama decides to put Israel’s only chip-land – in the pot for them and in return gets nothing.
    When the Palestinians get leaders that really want peace they will see they have had a willing partner along and peace will come.

  • ARH

    Has anyone seen a solid analysis about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a game theory perspective? I’ve seen good analysis and I’ve seen bad analysis (good or bad to the extent that my limited knowledge can decipher). More often than not, the analysis is tends to play to the narrative of one side or the other. Or, it it’ll pitch a few bones to both sides to show that the author sees far and wide beyond mere parochial concerns.

    Most of the time, this analysis centers around characters that are “good” or “bad.” The other side simply does what it does because they are “bad” and that’s what “bad” people do. There are certainly bad people out there, and plenty involved in this age old spat, but does any analysis attempt to break down the back and forth actions based on game theory? How they view each other, and make decisions based on the known information and expected decisions by the other side?

    Also, is there a good analysis about the power incentives involved with the leadership? Perhaps the Israeli leadership is reasonably happy with the status quo, relative to the alternatives, and feels they can continue to annex piece after piece of Judea and Samaria until the facts on the ground are irreversible throughout. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership claims they want peace, but derive much of their legitimacy from their ability to wage “resistance” on Israel. Make peace with Israel and you have to derive legitimacy from competent governance.

    I’ll have to do some Google searches.

  • Omar Ibrahim Bakr

    Possibly, and hopefully, President Obama’s next move towards” brokering” a “peace” deal will be the LAST for Obama and for the USA.

    American self appropriating, virtual monopoly of, the issue has hitherto, achieved two tangible results:

    1-Nothing was done; nothing was achieved.

    2-Afforded Israel the lee way, time (some 45 years now) and cover to go on:
    -confiscating more land,
    -constructing and expanding settlements,
    -entrenching itself in “annexed” areas,
    -building the Wall
    -demoliting Arab homes
    -massacring and deporting Palestinian freedom fighters
    -etc etc etc

    Two important byproducts :
    a- to lull Arab officialdoms into the belief, that most now recognize as an illusion, that “the USA will solve the problem” or at least “the USA will do something for the Palestinians!”

    b-to consciously deceive and side track Palestinian official “leadership” that ended by totally discrediting it.

    While the output from former is quite promising the latter is a net Palestinian gain.

  • You are forgetting the 1920 Mandate for a Jewish Homeland that provided Israel much more land than she now has, and which has never been amended. To this day Israel is legally entitled to all of Jordan and to the extent there is a peace treaty with that nation Israel has already made peace with the so-called Palestinians, who are merely Arabs and not a distinct people.

  • Haim

    Walter, here’s where you’re wrong:
    “The armistice lines (while never recognized as an international boundary) are the logical and really the only place to start”.

    NO. They are not “the only place”, not since 1995, when the areas A and B under the control of Palestinian Authority were delineated. THEY are the true starting point, if the idea is to take Palestinian population centers and walk out to the border that makes the new state viable. 1949 is the starting point only if you accept that there was some mythical “Palestine”.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      That may be true for you; it is not however the basis on which Israeli prime ministers have negotiated with their Palestinian counterparts.

      • Walter Russell Mead

        I wouldn’t DREAM of asking Texans to do anything they don’t want to.

  • scarlet

    While tpartynow would certainly benefit from information on how Palestine came to be named as such and how the Jewish people came to live in Europe and be considered outcasts, those writing here who claim Palestinians deserve nothing because they aren’t a distinct people are just as cruel. There is so much misinformation on both sides and so much bad behavior throughout history that all of these commentators seem to be unaware that they are “only a pawn in their game” It began as a Roman game and moved into a Catholic game and then a Lutheran game and now, what? … Israel moving Palestinians into a ghetto where they can’t do anything, can’t benefit from the economy, have to start from scratch with nothing? In dirt? While the military seeks justification to destroy them? The US allowing this Nazi-like behavior is inconceivable. When will this excrement be buried so it can produce new, clean earth that both can live on? What if together they built a thriving peaceful, beautiful place to live and breathe in? Would that be so unpalatable?

  • Rob Monson

    Dear Walter,

    I am a great fan of yours, your books are not only illuminating and fascinating, but your writing style is the hallmark of one who wants to be understood by its clarity and force, what I can’t understand is the contradiction in your own brilliant analysis of the symbolism and politics of all this, don’t you see that if all that matters is everyone own version of the truth, then to most of the world, Israel will be an apartheid state after September’s vote at the UN and the US its greatest and only champion. We will be isolated and it won’t matter whether there ever was a Palastine or resolution 242. The coservatives in the US and Israel want Judea and Sumeria to part of Israel, period. They are going to bear the brunt of this by the world, not Hamas. The Israel lobby and the Jews will also be openly scorned. So that’s where were headed I’m afraid.- Rob Monson- Switzerland

  • elixelx

    WRM If, as you suggest, the speech was not anti-Israel but just a misstep in terms of timing and tone, what are we to make of this piece of opining by the man who NEVER makes mistakes and only EVER is prgmatic:
    “The International Community is tired of this never-ending conflict…” Now which IC is he referencing? The International Community of Obama? The IC of Saudi Arabia? If anything the IC is actually desperately dependent on the I/P issue to have something to talk about at the UN! Barry is tired, therefore the IC is tired. His middle name is “MEMEME”!
    But this is not all: worse was yet to come. “Israel cannot realize the dream of being a Jewish or a Democratic State while yet an occupier…!” Now Israel has been DISQUALIFIED from being what she IS, because this poseur has decided that she is not what, in his Marxist mind, she OUGHT to be. THIS ABOVE ALL pissed off Ntanyahu and the Israelis. How dare this upstart, whose country has lived by being occupiers, (Korea, Mexico, Germany, Japan, The very country itself!) How DARE this yuppenny-hapenny, Barry-come-lately DARE to tell the Israelis that we are NOT what we manifestly are–Jewish and Democratic–because circumstance has forced us to put the IDF where we do NOT want them to be!
    Israel wants NOTHING, NOTHING to do with the Palestinians. Barry has just thrown us together again and furnished us both with new weapons. He is a fraud, a nancy, a trig, and a charlatan!
    And you are an selective apologist for this!

  • The armistice lines (while never recognized as an international boundary) are the logical and really the only place to start.

    What makes them the only place to start? Why not the 1922 lines, the 1925 lines the 1936 lines, the 1947 lines? All of them rejected by the Arabs, which is why they never recognized the 1949 lines as legitimate. You miss the whole argument. many Jews in the USA believe that there is no place for a Jewish State because Jews are spiritual beings not fit for the wielding of power. They prefer Goyim have power and that Jews should find favor with them, as they have for the last two thousand years. That dovetails with Arab aspirations so perfectly. Sovereign Jews who have made a choice to wield power find it disconcerting that the American President, or anybody, should tel them where it is permissible for Jews to wield power in their own defense. As for Obama, he has a simple mission which is the only mission given him by his handlers: destroy Israel. Anyone who believes otherwise is either being naive or Judeo-cidal. I would like to think the former, but then who knows. The so called pandering to the Muslim world is actually empowerment. The Muslim world is bitterly divided, but it agrees on one item: Israel must be destroyed, with or without America’s help, preferably with. Obama is the preferably.

    Want peace? Take the Arabs, the so-called palestinians to the USA, give them a territorial concession the size of Israel. USe the funds allocated to Israel UNWRA, the Dayton brigades, the Egyptian and Jordanian army and the untold billions spent on Iraq. Dont forget to stop all aid to Israel. In upstate New York no one will even feel their presence. Well, may be some Jews, and they, should they object, are free to go to israel. They are free to practice Brith here, thats something

  • John York

    [anti-Semitic rant by ill-tempered ignoramus deleted –ed]

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