Obama thereby repudiated presidential assurances to Israel that began with Lyndon Johnson and included President Bush’s letter to Prime Minister Sharon (2004): “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
Obama embraced Abbas’s insistence that Israel must relinquish its historic claim to the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Perhaps he would also consider relinquishing Arizona, New Mexico and California to return the United States to its pre-1848 borders.
Obama’s willingness to sacrifice Israeli security infuriated Netanyahu, whose sharp protest to Secretary of State Clinton impacted on presidential comments when the two leaders met with reporters the next day. Obama’s boilerplate about firm American bonds with Israel and concern for its security was conspicuous for its omission of any reference to 1967 borders.
When Netanyahu spoke, he turned to the president and stated bluntly that Israel “cannot go back to the 1967 lines – because these lines are indefensible.” Nor would Israel negotiate with a government that includes Hamas, “the Palestinian version of al Qaeda.” He reminded Obama: “a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality.”
The “Obamination” (as Hebron spokesman David Wilder characterized the president’s speech) coincided with an Israeli announcement of approval for 1,500 housing units in Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev, beyond pre-1967 borders. It was, if coincidentally, an appropriate Israeli response.
In his AIPAC speech on Sunday, Obama still remained silent on the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return.” Instead, he raised another demographic bogeyman: “the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”
But respected Israeli demographer Yoram Ettinger, noting that 66 percent of the population between the Jordan and Mediterranean is Jewish, has concluded from stable Palestinian and rising Jewish birth rates that “there is no demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish state.” But Palestinian exaggerations are catnip for “demographers of doom,” whose ranks Obama has now joined.
Obama desperately needs a history lesson. The League of Nations Mandate (1922), citing “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine,” recognized “the legitimacy of grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” When Great Britain lopped off three-quarters of Palestine to establish Trans-Jordan (the first Palestinian state), Jews were still assured the right of “close settlement” in the remaining land west of the Jordan River. That right has never been rescinded.
Sixty-four years ago the UN voted for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But the Palestinians, never (in Abba Eban’s memorable phrase) missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, also rejected that partition plan. Now there are two de facto Palestinian states. Jordan, with a majority Palestinian population, comprises three-quarters of Mandatory Palestine. Gaza is a Hamas fiefdom. There is no reason for a third, least of all in biblical Judea and Samaria.
The lingering question is whether Netanyahu will stand firm or, as he did with Clinton over Hebron (1997) and Obama on the settlement freeze last year, once again capitulate to presidential pressure. Time will tell.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Hebron Jews” (2009). His new book, “Brothers at War: Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena,” has just been published by Quid Pro Books.