A lot of Lib Dems read The Observer, and so will have read this piece in today's paper about the Obama/Netanyahu talks. Rather than pedantically picking holes in that article, as I easily could, I instead urge everyone to also read this interesting piece from The Washington Post, including a fascinating CBS News video about the talks (it is after all Washington, and not London, in which this is all happening). Watching Andrew Marr's BBC interview with President Obama, it is becoming clear what the President actually means when he talks about the pre-1967 borders. Let's look at the transcript. In the interview, the President said:
...the basis for negotiations will involve looking at the 1967 border, recognising that conditions on the ground have changed, and there are going to need to be swaps to accommodate the interests of both sides. That's on the one hand.On the other hand, and this was an equally important part of the speech, Israel's going to have to feel confident about its security on the West Bank. And that the security element is going to be important to the Israelis. They will not be able to move forward unless they feel that they themselves can defend their territory, particularly given what they've seen happen in Gaza, and the rockets that have been fired by Hezbollah.So our argument is let's get started on a conversation about territory and about security. That doesn't resolve all the issues. You still end up having the problem of Jerusalem, and you still end up having the problem of refugees. But if we make progress on what two states would look like, and the, a, reality sets in among the parties this is how it's going to end up, then it becomes easier for both sides to make difficult concessions to resolve those two other issues.
As a friend of Israel, writing here in a personal capacity and not on behalf of any organisation, I very much understand where the President is coming from, while I remain utterly aware of the security challenges faced by Israel; I write as someone who actually supported Israel's 2009 Gaza War, which I viewed as a regrettable necessity, however much I hate war.
Israel has previously offered to make huge concessions based on the principle that the pre-1967 borders will be a starting point for discussions. The pre-1967 borders were created in the midst of war in 1948 and were never actually recognised, prior to 1967, by Israel's neighbours. The Green Line, demarcating those borders, apparently runs through people's living rooms. It was never a fixed, arbitrary line created by negotiations. Exact adherence to it as the border between Israel and a Palestinian state would be silly and nobody (including President Obama) is proposing that.
If there is to be a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, then the West Bank's border with Israel will obviously be a starting point for discussions about where Israel ends and the Palestinian state begins. There will have to be land swaps, and security guarantees (including with regards to the Jordan Valley) before such a border can be agreed. It would indeed be unworkable for President Obama to propose going back to the pre-1967 borders without further discussion of where those borders begin and end. But that is not what the President is actually proposing. The next few days are going to be interesting in the extreme.