The line from the President’s Thursday’s speech that has generated the most attention and controversy is: “We believe 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 reaction to this line by Prime Minister Netanyahu and others has been dramatic. Here is what the Prime Minister said in his joint press conference with the President:
I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.
Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.
So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.
Emotionally, perhaps intellectually and personally, certainly diplomatically the differences are real. But there is nothing in what the President has described as an outcome of negotiations that necessarily excludes what the Prime Minister has described as basic reality.
I am not sure why the Prime Minister has taken such offense to this line. His offense has distracted attention from several other important lines.
For the purposes of homeland security — and especially concerns related to counter-terrorism — there was a sustained theme in the President’s speech worth highlighting. Three of several possible excerpts from the speech:
Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades. Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.
We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be. Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.
For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. It will not be easy. There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope.
I will not patronize you by delivering a tritely simplistic interpretation, the President has been clear enough for anyone prepared to read or listen.
In an early Thursday morning post I closed an extended opera analogy with, “I want my President to hit and hold a very high C in his performance today. The United States cannot decide how the Arab Spring, or the Arab-Israeli conflict, or many other stories will play out. But we ought play our role honestly, reaching as high as we possibly can.”
The young Luciano Pavarotti was known as the King of High Cs and probably owed his professional breakthrough to that thrilling skill. But his amazing long-term success was much more a result of the honesty, humility, and authenticity of both his persona and his art.
On Thursday I did not hear my President hit and hold a thrilling high C. I did hear an honest explanation of reality and an expression of policy to fit that reality.