Since the president's "Arab spring" speech, friends of Israel have been nervous about at least two issues: the promise that Israel would not have to sit down with those who seek its destruction and the negotiations based on the "1967 borders with land swaps." Last weekend it became apparent that there is much to worry about and that the Obama administration has been playing a game usually practiced by the Palestinians — telling its domestic audience one thing and the negotiating parties something else.
The trouble for the administration began Friday afternoon when Eli Lake published a story for the Washington Times that reported: "The White House is pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly adopt President Obama's view that Israel's pre-1967 border should be the basis for future peace talks."
Is the U.S. president pressuring Israel to adopt a position that is not its own and that diminishes its bargaining position? And what happened to President Obama's statements to AIPAC that Israel could not be expected to sit down with those who want to destroy it? After all, Hamas has not agreed to the "Quartet principles" (recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and abide by past agreements), nor has President Mahmoud Abbas separated from the Palestinian unity government. To the contrary, he is renouncing past agreements including the Oslo Accords, which call for mutually negotiated borders and prohibit the parties from taking unilateral steps that would impair negotiations.
Is the administration asking Israel to sit down with Abbas absent a commitment by Hamas or a breakup of the unity government? That should be an easy answer ("No!"), yet the administration won't say.
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams explained to me Friday evening: "I hope news reports of what the Obama White House is privately demanding of Israel are wrong. If the reports are right, the U.S. is now abandoning the Quartet principles — and asking Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian side that includes Hamas without Hamas taking one single step away from terror."
On Saturday I asked a State Department official authorized to speak only on background: Does "1967 borders with land swaps" mean "1967 and then we discuss swaps"? Or does it mean "1967 borders plus the swaps that the parties previously agreed to in negotiations including the Jerusalem suburbs"? Sure enough, the official told me, "It means swaps that the parties will agree on in the course of direct negotiations."
In other words, there is zero difference in the Obama scheme between "1967 borders" and "1967 border with land swaps." In both, the starting point is borders that Israel has deemed indefensible.
Congressional friends of Israel are likely to be enraged. As much as Obama seeks to pressure Israel while whispering vague promises to the American Jewish community, Congress may try to recalibrate the balance. We should at least have one branch of government in our ally's corner, right?