The Professor Receives a Lesson in Reality

by Derrick G. Jeter

When we speak on matters about which we know little or nothing we dull our tongue when we speak on matters about which we know a great deal.

This is particularly applicable to Barack Obama. In the past, many have noted that Obama has a certain professorial tone when he speaks. That is to say, he’s never in doubt but often wrong—especially when he speaks on matters on which he knows little or nothing.

And this was true of his May 19, 2011, Middle East speech. The president’s remarks were not particularly noteworthy until he came to his conclusion and spoke of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Twice he adopted the language of the pro-Palestinian left. He called Israel’s control of the West Bank “occupation.”

In the first instance he compared the Palestinians’ “suffering the humiliation of occupation” as equal to Israelis “living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.” In the second instance he said, “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” [1] Aside from the fact that the issues of humiliation and death (or the fear of death) are not equivalent and that Israel has fulfilled its dream of a Jewish and democratic state, the notion that Israel is an occupying force in the West Bank is historically and politically erroneous.

Mr. Obama’s use of the word “occupation,” however, was not the most egregious comment that day—though it provides a fitting context of what was to come.

The core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. 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.

With one stunning comment: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” Obama reversed decades of standing American policy. Not only has no president before him ever called for such a massive shrinking of Israeli territory, no president has ever been so ignorant of the history, the demographics, and the geography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the West Bank. Dore Gold argued in the Wall Street Journal wrote that “before the Six Day War, those lines in the West Bank only demarcated where five Arab armies were halted in their invasion of the nascent state of Israel 19 years earlier. Legally, they formed only an armistice line, not a recognized international border. No Palestinian state ever existed that could have claimed those prewar lines.” [2]

Nor has any American president said something so utterly foolish about this danger and protracted conflict. Obama himself recognized that Fatah, the Palestinians’ political organization, has a signed agreement with the known terrorist organization Hamas—an organization whose stated goal is to wipe Israel off the map. Obama even asked the question on Israel’s behalf: “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” How indeed, Mr. President! Should Israel conceding the West Bank and the Golan Heights before Hamas has ceased its rockets and silenced its car bombings?

Such a notion that Israel should move its borders to pre-1967 isn’t just dimwitted, it is reckless and foolhardy. Perhaps this is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to take the professor to school and give him a lesson in reality.

In an Oval Office joint press conference on May 20, Netanyahu said this: “We all want . . . peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure. . . . [W]e both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts.” [3]

And what are some of those facts? What are the realities? Netanyahu outlined three.

The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines—because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.

So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. . . .

The second is . . . that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas. Hamas, as the President said, is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. It’s fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children. It’s recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy. And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden.

So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda. . . .

The third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state, but certainly not in the borders of Israel.

The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems—Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state.

So it’s not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen. The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved, and it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state. So that’s a real possibility. But it’s not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated and animosities run deep. Every American president has bumped and bloodied his head on this granite-like problem. But no American president has sought o lecture or demand Israeli to move its borders back to position that are both unrealistic and indefensible. Professor Obama well deserved the lesson in reality he received from Netanyahu. Now, maybe President Obama could spend a little more time worrying about America’s borders and let Netanyahu worry Israel’s borders.

[1] Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa,” State Department, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2011, (accessed May 21, 2011).

[2] Dore Gold, “Israel’s 1967 Borders Aren’t Defensible,” Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2011, (accessed May 21, 1011).

[3] Benjamin Netanyahu, “Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel after Bilateral Meeting,” White House, Washington, D.C., May 20, 2011, (accessed May 21, 2011).