Resisting stiff opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, this past Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly endorsed Israel's pre-1967 borders as the basis for a future Palestinian state. Only hours prior to Mr. Obama delivering his speech, Mr. Netanyahu angrily vocalized his opposition to the president's intentions in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As I write this, it is now Friday afternoon in the United States, and Mr. Netanyahu has been given an opportunity to appear before a joint session of Congress, during which time he will clearly spell out his opposition to the new American position. I don't yet know what the outcome of that meeting is, but it is probably safe to say that the Republicans will give Netanyahu a standing ovation, while many Democrats will give him the cold shoulder treatment.
Quite frankly, while I strongly disagree with Mr. Obama's liberal attitude and personal beliefs regarding important issues such as abortion, gay and lesbian rights, embryonic stem cell research, etc., nevertheless, I must applause him in this instance for being willing to do what no other American president has been willing to do in recent history: stand up to Israel.
While I have referred to this as "the new American position", it should be pointed out that what Mr. Obama is now endorsing is not really a new position insofar as its originality is concerned; rather, it is simply a strategy which hasn't been tried in about a decade. If you recall the talks that were held between then US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the Palestinians, then you will recognize that the position which Mr. Obama has just publicly endorsed, is for the most part the same as a decade ago; that is, a Palestinian state that is based on pre-1967 borders, along with land swaps where it may become necessary.
Furthermore, just as Clinton and Barak chose to set aside the more sensitive issues regarding the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian "right of return" until later on in the discussions, President Obama is proposing the very same thing now.
In short, there is really nothing new being put on the table. The only thing new about this current development is that Obama is making the same old demands on an Israeli prime minister who will never succumb to American pressure. Obama already knows this, and that is why he remains convinced that Benjamin Netanyahu is not a true partner for peace, any more than Ariel Sharon or Yasser Arafat were.
While the Palestinians will no doubt be pleased with Obama's speech for the most part, they also need to recognize that the US's tilting towards the Palestinian position does come with a heavy price tag. In other words, it appears that in making this concession, the Obama administration's goal is to try to lure the Palestinians back to a negotiated two-state solution with Israel, and away from a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations General Assembly this coming September.
In fact, based on hints that were included in Mr. Obama's speech on Thursday, it appears that it is almost a given that the United States will veto any attempt by the Palestinians to achieve Palestinian statehood at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in September. The US President stated "Symbolic efforts to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."
So it is quite possible that not only will the United States veto any resolution regarding Palestinian statehood, but it may also attempt to convince its European allies to vote in a similar manner. However, as I mention in my three-part series "Palestinian Quest For Statehood And UN Resolution 377", there is an ongoing debate regarding whether or not a UN General Assembly vote can override a UN Security Council veto.
In looking at this situation from the point of view of an outsider, my suspicion is that the Palestinians will recognize that the trap has been laid, and thus they will not take the bait. In other words, I think that they have been through enough years of fruitless, endless talks, to realize that they don't want to travel down that well-worn road anymore. What Barack Obama is basically proposing, is that they all start at square one again; that is, at the pre-1967 borders. Doing so will no doubt mean many more years of fruitless discussions with an Israeli leadership which has absolutely no intentions of surrendering one single piece of Israel to the Palestinians.
So, as I point out in the aforementioned series, no matter how you look at it, the next four months promise to be very interesting, insofar as the Middle East peace process is concerned; that is, if they aren't already interesting enough with the ongoing "Arab Spring" uprisings. No doubt there will be a lot of saber-rattling between the Americans, the Israelis and the Palestinians; bravado will be heavily on display; accusations and counter accusations will fly; and we will see who blinks first. The race has begun, the heat is on, and there can only be one victor. The world appears to be betting on the Palestinians. Will they prove to be correct? What do you think?