Saturday, May 21, 2011

What To Expect From POTUS At AIPAC

President Obama will likely reiterate support for Israel and ignore 1967 at the AIPAC conference tomorrow. His remarks (which I'll live-tweet at @thecamelsnoseblog) follow two previous confrontations with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in just 72 hours. The first round was the President's speech Thursday at the State Department about the Arab uprisings. In response, PM Netanyahu expressed disappointment over the President's invocation of the 1967 borders as the basis for a peace agreement. The second round was PM Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama yesterday at the White House. The President reiterated concern over Syria and Iran, and stressed the need for a secure Israel. PM Netanyahu reiterated Israel's desire for peace but repeated that the 1967 lines are "indefensible."

The current Obama administration strategy appears to be balancing five major pro-Israel talking points against a prod for restarting negotiations based on the Two-State Solution framework. The five points are opposition to 1) Hamas, 2) Iran 3) Syria 4) The Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN this September, and 5) a US commitment to Israeli security. This is balanced against the idea that (quoted verbatim) "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."

At the White House yesterday, Obama referenced "differences...which are going to happen between friends," but did not say "1967," or directly address the the issue. The strategy at this point appears to try to deny Netanyahu traction on the issue by staying focused on the other five points and reiterating a positive message of support for Israel.

As with the last time he spoke at AIPAC, PM Netanyahu very much is in a win-win situation. If the President pushes 1967, it gives Bibi traction to mobilize the pro-Israel right. If the President drops it, Netanyahu can claim diplomatic victory in his trip to Washington.

The President's speech on Thursday was largely written with his appearance at the G-8 summit in Europe this week in mind. That means his rhetoric tomorrow morning is likely to closely follow that of yesterday's White House remarks. Expect a rehashing of the five major points, and no mention of 1967 at all. Netanyahu will almost definitely invoke 1967 in his speech to AIPAC on Monday. This will be successful politically, but from a policy perspective he will be talking past the President rather than engaging him in an actual dispute.

In this regard, the reaction of the Israeli center will be critical to watch. Israelis want their interests defended in Washington, but those interests include a good relationship with the US government. Netanyahu may encounter trouble if the fight he picks with the US is understood in Israel to be largely over a non-issue.

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