by Amanda Walgrove
In 1967, the 25th amendment to the constitution was ratified, the U.S. was in the thick of the Vietnam War, Benjamin Netanyahu first joined the Israeli army and the Six-Day war ended with a U.N.-mediate ceasefire established between Syria and Israel. The year 1967 brought the release of The Doors’ self-titled debut album, Elvis Presley’s marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu, the inaugural Superbowl game on network television, and the birth of Julia Roberts. What a different world it was. Tweeting was still something that only birds could do and revolutions were not started on Facebook, because back then a facebook was a company photo album.
In late May, President Obama delivered a speech that sparked a wealth of controversy and a barrage of criticism after he insisted that Israel and Palestine return to their 1967 borders. Netanyahu urgently responded that the 1967 borders would be impossible to return to because they are indefensible. There are geographical and demographical changes that have occurred in the past 44 years and these cannot be overlooked.
Defending his initial remarks at an address to AIPAC a few days later, Obama reiterated his statements in hopes of clarifying them. Obama insisted he hadn’t said anything new in his speech when he mentioned the 1967 borders, remarking that he was only highlighting a continuation of policy from previous administrations. He felt that he was publicly saying what had always been privately believed. He continued to defend his statement and modify it at the same time. According to Obama, redefining the borders would be based on “mutual swaps,” meaning Israel and Palestine would decide on a border that is different from 1967 but allows them to account for the geopolitical changes that have taken place since then. So they won’t be the 1967 borders, but they will be similar. He even quoted the Talmud, adding, “So long as a person has life, they should never abandon faith.”
Somewhat assuaged, AIPAC issued a statement commending Obama on his speech, citing his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and his “his recognition that Israel cannot be expected negotiate with a group that denies its fundamental right to exist.” Even Netanyahu backed down a bit from the severity of his previous remarks and said that he was “determined to work together” with the president to advance peace.
After trudging through this week’s speeches, rebuttals, and the commentaries, it seems that Netanyahu and Obama wholeheartedly agree on the necessity to preserve a strong and secure Israel, supported by an alliance with America. They can even tout the same key phrases such as “advancement of peace” and “defense of democracy.” It is only how to go about accomplishing these things for which they seem to have trouble coming up with a compromise. Obama said that he and Netanyahu disagree, as friends do, but have always had an open and honest relationship. Both even agree that there is no time to debate and fumble with foreign policy objectives as Israel sits in a hotbed of political turmoil and terrorist threats. But how speedily can peace negotiations be finalized with Palestine when Israel and its ally can’t even determine how to approach such a peace deal?
Along with abortion and gay rights, Israel support is increasingly becoming a hot button political issue, leaving the Jewish vote for the upcoming election in flux. NPR recently ran an article questioning if American Jews were much more concerned with domestic issues, such as health care, than they are with Israel. Still, Obama and GOP hopefuls seem to be scrambling for those votes in any way possible. In a conference call earlier this week, Obama begged Jewish reporters not to perpetuate the hype that is in any way anti-Israel. Meanwhile, it was just announced that Haim Saban, a billionaire Israeli-American donor to the Democrats has announced he won’t be donating to President Obama’s re-election effort. He feels that Obama needs to show more support of Israel and make a visit to the Jewish homeland.
Although the U.S. remains a powerful and crucial ally for Israel, in the end, it’s not our call on how Israel sets its borders. And with Palestinian aggression, it may not be Israel’s call either. Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council Marc R. Stanley responded to Obama’s AIPAC speech, saying, “Support for Israel isn’t a Republican issue, it isn’t a Democratic issue, it is an American issue. The future safety and security of a democratic, Jewish State of Israel is safeguarded when we all work together, not when we resort to petty political games and finger pointing.” In the near future, there are decisions to be made, votes to be cast, and ultimately, lives to be protected. Going backwards to account for the future may not be possible.