Back to square one for Israel-Palestine talks

In a speech before the world Obama called on Israel to return to its 1967 borders with Palestine. In a speech before the US Israel-lobby only days later, he backpedaled slightly calling for renewed talks and a reset to the peace process.

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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,” US President Barack Obama said in a televised speech.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea outright and immediately.

We can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast,” Obama said at the pro-Israeli American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting, calling for a renewed peace process, taking negotiations back to square one – including discussions on the 1967 borders.

He further said the legitimacy of Israel is not up for debate, nor would the US support any acts by the UN to condemn or hinder Israel as a state. The AIPAC speech was far more pro-Israel than his earlier speech on Middle East policy.

The inconsistency has many in the Middle East confused and frustrated. Positive views of Obama and American policy toward the Arab world have fallen in recent years. Confusion and frustration abounds.

Discussion of returning to the 1967 Israeli borders is not new. The UN, the European Union, Russia and others have often suggested and supported the idea. Israel and the US often have not. While Obama has called for a return to the borders, his administration is but one voice and is not always on par with the voices of the many US Senators and Congressman.

AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups hold a great deal of power in America, especially over US politics, elections and the US-Israel relationship. It is highly unlikely the US will censure Israel or hinder the strong relationship with Israel, even under Obama.

The pro-Israel lobby frequently uses their power to influence politics and defeat candidates who oppose their views – they are often highly successful.

The recent speeches by Obama and the AIPAC meeting itelf have reignited the long standing Israel-Palestine debate.

Daniel Pollak, the co-director for government relations at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) argued that the Israelis want peace, but are not willing to sacrifice security to achieve it.

Peace if the ultimate objective of everyone I know in Israel on both sides of the political spectrum,” Pollak said. “The problem is about what the conflict is really about. In the United States, in formulating issues relating to territory is not getting to the core issue. The core issue, in my view and probably in the view of most Israelis, is the inability of the Arab world and the Palestinians to accept the very existence of a Jewish state in the midst Middle East.”

Until Israel is fully recognized by its neighbors and Palestinians a solution cannot be truly obtained, he added. Border disputes and other issues are not at the core. Discussing other issues without addressing the core will not bring the two sides to peace.

Author of “This Time We Went Too Far” and political scientist Norman Finkelstein said the basic principles to dissolve the conflict have been presented again and again by the UN and other international and legal bodies.

The terms are straight forward,” said Finkelstein. “There has to be a two-state settlement under June 1967 borders; Israel exercising sovereignty and independence within its state and the Palestinians exercising sovereignty and self-determination in the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as its capital. And there has to be a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee question. Those are the terms.

He argued threat there is no requirement or reason that Palestine or others recognize Israel as a Jewish state or recognize their right to exist.

There’s no basis for that in international law,” he said.

Finkelstein contended that all lands occupied by Palestine must be returned to Palestine, there are no disputed territories – they are Palestine.

Pollak disagreed.

It’s disputed territory,” he responded. “The international law that applies here is US Resolution 242 which does not require that all of the disputed territory of what Israelis call Judea and Samaria, what Dr. Finkelstein called the West Bank, be given to the Palestinians.”

Notions of territory should by negotiated by both sides, but Arab groups, not Israel, refuse to negotiate argued Pollak.

He said that the Palestinians have not agreed to sit down and negotiate since Obama took office. There has been no direct talk to discuss territory or recognition of Israel as a means of achieving peace and the people should move away from groups like Hamas.

Everybody talks about what Hamas has to do, but what about what Israel has to do?” commented Finkelstein. “Everybody tells Hamas what it must do.”

He contended that there is no requirement or precedent for recognizing Israel as Jewish state under any laws and that the territory is Palestinian, no negotiation or dispute. Israel, not Arab states, is who needs to seek and contribute to peace discussions.