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Obama's Israel Policy

11:07 AM, May 20, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post goes over the history of America's Israel policy and the significance of President Obama's declaration yesterday that “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.” Historically, Kessler finds, "until Obama on Thursday, U.S. presidents generally have steered clear of saying the negotiations should start on the 1967 lines."

Barack Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Barack Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Indeed, Obama's formulation is more radical than all presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush:

“It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of 4 June 1967 will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized borders.”

— President Lyndon Johnson, September 1968

“In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely ten miles wide at  its  narrowest  point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.”

— President Ronald Reagan, September 1, 1982

“Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”

— Secretary of State George Shultz, September 1988

“I think there can be no genuine resolution to the conflict without a sovereign, viable, Palestinian state that accommodates Israeli's security requirements and the demographic realities. That suggests Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza, the vast majority of the West Bank, the incorporation into Israel of settlement blocks … To make the agreement durable, I think there will have to be some territorial swaps and other arrangements.”

— President Bill Clinton, January 7, 2001

“Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians must address the core issues that divide them if there is to be a real peace, resolving all claims and ending the conflict between them. This means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognize borders.”

— President George W. Bush, June 24, 2002

Even liberal Alan Dershowitz believes the president made a mistake in his Middle East speech yesterday:

President Barack Obama should be commended for his emphasis on Israel’s security and his concern about Hamas joining the Palestinian Authority without renouncing its violent charter. But he made one serious mistake that tilts the balance against Israel in any future negotiations. Without insisting that the Palestinians give up their absurd claim to have millions of supposed refugees “return” to Israel as a matter of right, he insisted that Israel must surrender all of the areas captured in its defensive war of 1967, subject only to land swaps.

This formulation undercuts Security Council Resolution 242 (which I played a very small role in helping to draft). Resolution 242, passed unanimously by the Security Council in the wake of Israel’s 1967 victory, contemplated some territorial adjustments necessary to assure Israel’s security against future attacks. It also contemplated that Israel would hold onto the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and the access roads to Hebrew University, without the need for any land swaps. Land swaps would only be required to make up for any areas beyond those contemplated by Resolution 242. The Obama formulation would seem to require land swaps even for the Western Wall. 

Peter Berkowitz believes that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu "should reaffirm before Congress on May 24 that further progress toward peace depends above all on Palestinian recognition that the Jewish people, no less than the Palestinian people, have a right to national independence in a state of their own."

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