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In Diplomatic Theater, Is Europe the Audience?

How the past several days of nutsiness may help Israel at the U.N.

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President Obama and the First Lady board Air Force One for Ireland last night.(Jewel Sama/AFP/Getty Images)

“In particular, we appreciate his statement that the U.S. does not expect Israel to withdraw to the boundaries that existed between Israel and Jordan in 1967 before the Six-Day War,” a satisfied AIPAC declared yesterday after President Obama’s speech at its conference, referring to his earlier speech last Thursday; Prime Minister Netanyahu’s aides felt reassured by Obama’s “clarification.” This is Lewis Carroll stuff: There were zero substantive differences between the two speeches. Obama even pointed this out yesterday: “There was nothing particularly original in my proposal,” he noted. “Let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday—not what I was reported to have said.” He continued, “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 rest—Netanyahu’s huffing and puffing, Obama’s applause-ridden “clarification” to AIPAC—was commentary of a particularly bizarre sort unless you understand it as pure diplomatic theater.

But if the theater worked one way—the U.S. president saying, for the first time, explicitly what everyone already knew to be true, and then being forgiven for saying the exact same thing three days later—then maybe it will work the other way, too? The president’s AIPAC speech established, first, that he is not going to alter his course in the face of intimidation, hectoring, and lecturing from the Israeli prime minister, and, second, that the reason he decided to take the diplomatic step is because he feels time is not on Israel’s side. As he said: “I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination.” Obama changed no substance, but he did engage in a bit of diplomacy, and it will have been successful diplomacy if it had a similar type of effect on the Palestinians and the Europeans that it did on Netanyahu.

There was no movement form the Palestinians. The fact is, there were two overwhelmingly pro-Israel speeches—among many other things, both explicitly called for a demilitarized Palestinian state—and even more moderate Palestinians read them as such. Fatah insisted Netanyahu remains too intransigent for direct talks, and that it will continue down its road to a September statehood push at the United Nations; President Abbas’s spokesperson expressed extreme dissatisfaction. Hamas went further, pledging not to recognize Israel. Furthermore—as Obama reminded us, both Thursday and Sunday—Hamas and Fatah are now allies. So clearly Obama failed to sway the Palestinians, which doubtfully was ever the purpose.

That said, the speech’s primary audience may have been Europe. Obama flew there yesterday for a six-day trip, to Ireland; Britain; a G-8 meeting in France; and Poland. “Administration officials said it would be up to Mr. Obama, during an economic summit in Paris next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming United Nations vote, a prospect that would deeply embarrass Israel,” the Times reported.

All reporting suggests that Netanyahu lashed out at Obama after Thursday’s speech because he was surprised by it, and doesn’t like to be surprised, and is fearful of what other surpises may be on the way. Additionally, I am of the opinion that Netanyahu reacted the way he did—arrogantly lecturing his superpower patron and host while ignoring the substance of what he said—because he is personally boorish, ideologically inflexible, and characterologically craven.

However. To European eyes and ears, the Israeli leader’s dissatisfaction might serve also as proof of the U.S.’s fundamental reasonableness. The European Union’s foreign ministers have already jumped aboard Obama’s call for negotiating a treaty based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps. Wouldn’t it be funny if it helped persuade them that the U.S. remains worthy of leading when it comes to the question of Mideast peace, and therefore that it should be followed, when, in September, it opposes Palestinian efforts to secure statehood at the U.N.?

Netanyahu Aides Play Down Differences with Obama [WP]
AIPAC Likes Clarification on ’67 Lines [JTA]
Remarks by the President at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011 [White House]
Palestinians: Netanyahu’s Dismissals of Obama’s Ideas Shows No Common Ground for Peace Talks [AP/WP]
Hamas: Obama Will Fail in Forcing Us to Recognize Israel [Haaretz]
Obama Presses Israel to Make ‘Hard Choices’ [NYT]
Mideast Questions Likely to Surface in Obama Trip to Europe [NYT]
EU Backs Obama’s Call for Mideast Treaty Based on 1967 Borders [AP/Haaretz]
Earlier: At AIPAC Summit, Obama Stays His Course
Bibi Gets What He Wants, Replies With Scorn

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fred lapides says:

I had listened carefully to both speeches by Obama and conclude that the second speech, the following day, was to clarify that which he believed had been miss-understood and not properly explicated.

Those to the right of center continue to believe that Pres. Obama is not a friend to Israel and thus jump at what they can to make their point.

With great clarity Obama emphasized that there could be no imposed Palestinian state, that there could be no peace arrangement without the recognition of Israel’s right to exist and an end to hostilities aimed at Israel, and that America stood firmly on Israel’s side to make sure that the democracy survived.

Mike says:

Let’s be honest, it’s all theater. The Palestinians don’t want peace, or at least a peace that involves accepting the existence of Israel and Jewish political self determination. If a two-state solution was the Palestinian and Arab goal they would have accepted the Israel peace proposal in 2008 or 2000 – 2001, wouldn’t have issued the three nos in 1968, would have accepted the original UN plan that created and Israel and would have created a Palestine, wouldn’t have had leaders who worked for the Nazis in WWII, would have accepted the Peele Commission plan in 1937, wouldn’t have rioted in 1920 and 1929, wouldn’t have kept the Mufti as a leader, wouldn’t have let the Mufti assassinate any Arab leader willing to accept Jews living in Palestine, etc…

Dana says:

I listened to Obama and Netanyahu speak and did not think Bibi was lecturing any more than Obama lectures. He was simply presenting facts. I was glad to hear him remind people of the Jewish refugees that were expelled from Arab countries after having been stripped of all their possessions. Mike is right – the Palestinians don’t want peace. The merger of Hamas and Fatah proves that, as do all their previous actions. Obama is no friend to Israel and in the end will always side with the Palestinians.

dave says:

Indeed, it’s all theater. The Palestinian ideology is still liberationist, not nationalist, for starters. The idea that Westerners with their good intentions are going to somehow create a viable Palestinian state and show those Israelis and Palestinians how easy it is to live in peace together flies in the face of every lesson we’ve learned over the last 10 years about the limits of Western idealism in creating a new reality in the Arab world.

The most preposterous part of this article is the conceit that by upsetting Netanyahu, Obama’s speech means at long last Europe will recognize the US as a serious peace broker.
This shows exactly how far from reality this line of thinking is. It’s merely Westerners (ie outsiders) posturing with each other–ie Likud supporters vs. Labor supporters, Democrats vs. Republicans–it has nothing to do with what’s actually going on with the Palestinians.

The notion that Europe will be impressed with Obama and that this somehow matters is really reaching for the bottom of the barrel. Europe is irrelevant. They are mere spectators. They can’t affect any change in the I/P conflict, all they can do is comment. Unfortunately, their own domestic interests (oil, Muslim minorities, left wing anti-zionism) ensure that their comments won’t even be helpful, let alone productive.

FWIW, I’m no fan of Netanyahu myself. I would never vote for him or his party. But I realize that in this particular issue, he’s right and everyone else is wrong.
If we’re going to talk about the reality of a two state solution instead of merely reiterating the platitudes, then Netanyahu is saying exactly what needs to be said.
Also, I didn’t find his speech to be arrogant in any way. Apparently the act of simply rebutting the naivete of a leader of a patron nation is an act of arrogance, regardless of the merit contained within each argument.

Indeed, all theater and pageantry.

Beatrix says:

A diplomat says to Israel, “Of course we’re going to negotiate from the 1967 borders rather than the 1948 ones that the Palestinians want,” and Israel is thrilled at America’s support and understanding.

Obama says Israel must negotiate form the 1967 borders, and Netanyahu is furious at America’s power play and lack of concern about Israel’s needs.

One statement is from a diplomat used to placating world leaders who have egos most of us can’t imagine. The other is a demand from the most powerful leader on the planet, inexperienced in both leadership and diplomacy.

Obama should let his trained diplomats handled negotiations between Israel and Palestine. He wants to be all things to all men, and he’s just not skilled at it.

My best advice would be Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and then its sequel, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai. I do warn you that if youre the type who isnt so thrilled with excessive gore, than this might not be the anime for you.

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In Diplomatic Theater, Is Europe the Audience?

How the past several days of nutsiness may help Israel at the U.N.

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