Melanie Phillips

22 May 2011

Obama's achievement: the mouse that roared

Published in: Spectator

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I don’t know what strategic purpose Obama had in mind for addressing the Middle East impasse when last Thursday he made the first of a series of speeches on the subject. Whatever this may have been, that speech produced one satisfactory result. The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for once started to tell the west a few home truths about what it was doing. With the world’s cameras trained upon him and looking Israel’s potential nemesis in the eye, Netanyahu at last did what he and other Israeli prime ministers should have done a long time ago. He seized the moment, and used the presence of the icily immobilised President to speak electrifyingly over his head to the American people and the world about the likely terrible consequences for Israel of the President’s policy. He began to strip away the pretence, to tear off the fig-leaf. This President’s stated policy would destroy Israel’s existential security. It’s a message the American people need to hear, over and over again. This morning, the consequences were already plain. Obama had shifted his position. Not much, but enough to demonstrate one crucial fact: that Israel’s most potent weapon of all is the truth, and when it chooses to wield that weapon its tormentors begin to crumble. This is what Obama said last Thursday: ‘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.’ Here’s the thing. Obama spoke correctly when he referred to the ‘1967 lines’ rather than ‘borders’. There are no 1967 borders. Israel actually has no borders. All it has are the 1949 ceasefire lines, which is where Israel was left when it fought off the attempt by five Arab armies to exterminate it at birth. These lines were referred to as the ‘Auschwitz borders’ because within them no country could possibly defend itself against its enemies. They left Israel at its narrowest point a mere nine miles wide -- as Netanyahu said, less than the Washington Beltway. A return to the 1967 lines would mean exposing Israel once more to the likelihood of destruction, and such a proposal runs counter to the spirit and the letter of UN Resolution 242. True Obama added ‘with land swaps’. But no realistic land swaps could make up for this fatal vulnerability. When Obama was interviewed by a star-struck Andrew Marr on BBC TV this morning, he said the ‘1967 lines’ formula had always been accepted as the basis for a solution. Not true, as Dore Gold and Robert Satloff explain here. Not true, as Glenn Kessler explains in the Washington Post. Successive administrations carefully stepped round this minefield in accordance with Resolution 242. It is the Palestinians who talk about returning to the ‘1967 borders’. The sting in what Obama did was to adopt the Palestinian position as US policy. Wrote Kessler: He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a ‘Palestinian goal’ but as U.S. policy... for a U.S. president, the explicit reference to the 1967 lines represented crossing the Rubicon. What’s more, he appears to have ambushed Netanyahu with it. So the Bibimouse finally roared. By Marr’s interview this morning, Obama was signalling that he was shifting his position. Now the 1967 lines were to be not the basis of the solution but the basis for negotiations. In his speech to AIPAC today, although he reverted to his original formulation he did so to cover his tracks as he further finessed this shift in his position: By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. (Applause.) That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. (Applause.) It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. So from being the basis for a solution, the 1967 lines had become 'a border that is different'. It was also notable that, on both occasions, Obama offered the Palestinians nothing. He said the Fatah/Hamas deal was not on. He said Israel couldn’t be expected to sit down with people who were intent on its destruction. True, he didn’t say what he should have said: namely, that the US would now accordingly cut off the funding to the Hamas/Fatah alliance. Nor did he say that the PA could also not be a partner for peace until it too repudiated its refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state and stopped inciting its people to murder Jews. For the real problem, of course, is that Obama insists that Mahmoud Abbas is a true partner for peace, even though he is just as much of a rejectionist as is Hamas. As the Washington Post sternly observed: The president appears to assume that Mr. Abbas is open to a peace deal despite growing evidence to the contrary. And the paper suggested that the precondition for any diplomatic success by the President in the Middle East would be restoring trust with Israel, rather than courting a feckless Palestinian leader. Instead, Obama has adopted in these speeches what might be termed the Mafia Gambit: the implied threat to Israel that either it accepts the ‘1967 Auschwitz borders’ or runs the gauntlet of UN recognition and further western delegitimisation. As a set of demonstrably meaningless and cynical platitudes, Obama’s speech to AIPAC today was a corker. Try this for example: And we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and for their rhetoric. Hey, the man should go into vaudeville. So far, Abbas and co have had a laughably free pass despite their serial aggression, bad faith, reneging on treaties and repeated expressions of exterminatory aggression and incitement to hatred and murder of Jews. Yet it’s Israel alone upon which Obama has dumped, by expecting it to make suicidal concessions to its attackers. At best, Obama remains even-handed between Judeophobic exterminators and their victims; that puts him on the side of the exterminators. The fact is that, for all his ludicrous protestations of friendship towards Israel, Obama believes the Palestinians have a legitimate grievance over the absence of their state. He thus believes their propaganda of historical falsehoods and murderous blood libels. He therefore believes it is a just solution to reward murderous aggression. And that makes Obama a threat not just to Israel but to free societies everywhere. Nevertheless, it is a shocking fact that the British government‘s position is now even more hostile towards Israel than is Obama’s. For while Obama was very clear that the alliance between Hamas and Fatah was insupportable, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague actually expressed delight at this deal. As the Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan pointed out on his blog about Obama’s proposal: William Hague on the Politics Show today backed the plan enthusiastically. ‘I hope Israel and the Palestinians will treat the whole change that is now going on in the Middle East as a case for the, the added urgency of the peace process rather than as an excuse not to engage in the peace process,’ he said. Asked by Jon Sopel whether it wasn’t a bit much for Israel to reduce itself to a 10m wide strip when Hamas and its state sponsors still work for its destruction, the Foreign Secretary sounded weirdly optimistic about what a Fatah/Hamas team up could achieve: ‘The reconciliation of the two Palestinian factions is something that is potentially an important step forward because it means there’s a united Palestinian entity for Israel to negotiate with, but it does require them to enter into negotiations in the right spirit and recognising Israel’s right to exist.’ To stretch an already tired metaphor beyond endurance: Obama threw Israel under the bus, but after cries of horror from passers-by stopped and offered the casualty a sip of water; the British, however, proceeded to kick the injured party’s head in. Bottom line: Obama has started his re-election campaign. Nothing he says is to be taken more seriously than his need to whip the feeble American Jews back into line. And that’s not hard. The few crumbs he threw out to pacify them should do the trick. Bottom bottom line: it’s all a pile of steaming irrelevance. The Arabs aren’t going to play anyway. The immediate reason for the nine-decade war thus remains firmly in place. The deeper reason, that the aggressor is indulged and rewarded by the west and thus has every incentive to ratchet up his rejectionism and aggression, also remains firmly in place. That is what Netanyahu has to address. He has to tell America and Britain that this murderous impasse is their fault -- and that only they can end it by refusing for the first time to indulge and reward those committed to the destruction of Israel, the real cause of the continuation of this conflict. Netanyahu did well last Friday. Now he has to turn telling truth to power into a new strategic approach.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie