A veteran Obama Mideast adviser is claiming President Obama's position on a Palestinian state is no different from that of President George W. Bush--and he has effectively rewritten a key Bush letter on Israel in order to prove his point.
Philip Gordon, who was the White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf Region until this April, performed these literary acrobatics in the book review section of the Washington Post on June 28. The context was Gordon's petulant critique of Israel's former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, for writing in his new book that Obama's position constitutes a significant departure from previous U.S. policy.
The background to this dispute is complex but worth rehashing, since it goes to the heart of current American-Israeli tensions, and the lengths to which some Obama administration officials will go in order to advance their agenda in this area.
President Obama, it will be recalled, asserted back in May 2011, that the borders of a Palestinian state "should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." According to Philip Gordon, writing in the Post, this was not some radical break with U.S. policy, but has been the consistent position of U.S. presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, "the 'Clinton parameters' in 2000."
The Washington Post's own Fact Checker column, by Glenn Kessler, weighed in at the time of Obama's pronouncement--and came down squarely on the side of what former ambassador Oren is claiming.
Kessler noted that not only had pre-Clinton presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, specifically denounced the 1967 lines as indefensible, but President Clinton himself, in his own description of his parameters, "shied away from mentioning the 1967 lines…" Kessler noted a statement Clinton made in January 2001, just before leaving office, that a Palestinian state would have to "accommodate Israel's security requirements and the demographic realities."
Thus, Kessler concluded, Obama's May 2011 declaration indeed "represented a major shift," because "he did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a 'Palestinian goal' " -- as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did on a number of occasions -- "but as U.S. policy. He also dropped any reference to 'realities on the ground'--code for Israeli settlements…"
The "realities on the ground" concept refers to the fact that about two-thirds of the Israeli residents of the disputed territories reside in five "settlement blocs," as they are known, that are less than an hour's drive from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Most Israelis oppose withdrawal from those blocs, both because it would reduce Israel to impossibly narrow borders, and because the blocs are so close to the rest of Israel that their presence does not interfere with the lives of the Palestinians.
Enter Bush 43. Although he was the first president to publicly call for establishment of an independent Palestinian state, he never said it should be according to the 1967 lines. On the contrary, on April 14, 2004, Bush wrote a letter to then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in which he specifically rejected the 1967 lines (which he referred to – correctly -- as the 1949 armistice lines): "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of the final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
Philip Gordon's predecessor, Elliott Abrams, who was involved in the negotiations that included drafting Bush's letter to Sharon, subsequently confirmed that the letter represented a U.S. policy statement opposing withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Abrams noted that the policy shift was reported as such in the New York Times and elsewhere at the time.
In his Washington Post review, Philip Gordon mangled Bush's 2004 letter, effectively rewriting it in order to make it resemble Obama's position.
Here's how he pulled it off.