Thursday, May 19, 2011

Netanyahu Picks A 2-State Solution Fight

President Obama's much-hyped Middle East speech at the State Department today included this rhetoric on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

The Prime Minister's office in Israel released a statement challenging this notion:

Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.

Given Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech next week at AIPAC, as well as his address to a joint session of Congress, rhetorical fireworks from the Prime Minister's Office were largely expected.

It bears mention, however, that the two state solution, which PM Netanyahu endorsed in his Bar-Ilan speech in 2009, is widely understood to be based on the 1967 lines. The reason analysts use the rhetoric "based on" is that major settlements like Gilo and Maale Adumim are widely understood to be on land which will be incorporated into Israel in exchange for one-for-one land swaps with the Palestinian Authority. None of this is new, or particularly controversial. It's also an argument Netanyahu and the Pro-Israel right have made before.

Right now, the Prime Minister is counting on President Obama not challenging his statement. If the President were to call Bibi on this latest rhetoric in his speech to AIPAC Sunday morning, this would be a strategy shift from the Obama administration and a significant development in US-Israel relations. It would re-ignite Obama-Bibi tensions and would have important implications for the popularity ratings of both leaders.

Netanyahu has been successfully preempted by the Obama administration, but only for now. His comments do not set terms, but are rather a reaction to Obama's terms. That being said, Netanyahu is good at reacting quickly to rhetoric, and it would be foolish to think that he would be unable to recover from further pressure from Obama.

I will be live-blogging from the AIPAC conference beginning this Sunday. Stay tuned as the showdown continues.

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