Gamal Helal, a former Middle East affairs adviser to US presidents, says that Obamaâ€™s insistence that Israel must shrink to the size it was before 1967, even if inside different borders, is a victory for the Arab world.
"This new thesis, which President Obama presented in his Thursday’s speech, supports the Arab viewpoint," Helal told the A-Sharq al-Aussat newspaper, "and is a basic hindrance for the Israeli side, which links the size of Israel before 1967 to the ability to defend it."
Helal explained why Israel does not wish to return to borders based on those of June 4, ’67: "The Israelis say that if Israel is of small area, it will be difficult to defend it."
Other points, as well, in Obama’s two speeches over the past few days are worrisome to Israel supporters. Obama implied that the "Arab refugees" problem still needs to be negotiated, even if not immediately, and that the possibly-future PLO state must share a border with Jordan.
Passing Up Vagueness
However, the very fact that Obama delineated the size of future Israel, if not its borders, is a particularly blatant departure from prior US policy – to Israel’s detriment. Ex-Presidents Bush and Clinton both passed up chances to specify their preferred future borders. The famous April 2004 Bush Letter to Ariel Sharon, for example, stated only, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."Many analysts have noted that neither UN Resolution 242 – which called for Israel to withdraw "from territories" and not "from the territories" – nor other binding requirements have ever defined the exact quantity of area that Israel might be required to leave.
Bad for Israel, US, and Peace
Ari Shavit, columnist for left-wing Haaretz, wrote that the manner in which Obama introduced the concept of the 1967 borders into the fray was "very bad for Israel, and very bad for the United States, and very bad for peace." Shavit wrote that instead of "presenting the 1967 borders as the end of the process, Obama made them its start. Instead of tying them to the end of demands and the end of the conflict, they were tied to greater demands and continued conflict."
This, Shavit continued, "presented Israel with a suicidal proposition: an interim agreement based on the 1967 borders… a proposal that will result in certain conflict in Jerusalem and in the inundation of Israel with refugees. It’s a proposition that spells an end to peace, an end to stability and an end to the State of Israel."