Obama's Secret Mideast Success

In the midst of social protests sweeping Israel these days, few noticed a report broadcast on the sidelines of the nightly news. The item, on any other day, would have shocked the very foundations of the Israeli public: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is said, agreed on 1967 borders as the basis for negotiation with the Palestinians.

The report is accurate. An official American document, written in coordination with Netanyahu's staff and approved by the Prime Minister, states that "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps."

The document was not well-received as a basis for negotiation. The other members of the Quartet opposed several components of it, mainly the definition of "Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people," the equating of "action in the UN and permanent occupation" as obstacles to the two-state solution, and the need to consider "demographic realities on the ground" in determining the permanent border, which essentially legitimizes the settlements before an agreement even exists.

Netanyahu planned to accept the document with reservations, in the exact same way that the Israeli government accepted the Road Map (which defined the objective of the peace process as an end to the 1967 occupation) with reservations. In both cases, the acceptance remains while the reservations fade from people's consciousness and from negotiation tables.

Perhaps Netanyahu does not want to advance the political process knowing the components of its only possible outcome, and perhaps he cannot, considering the current internal political reality he has created. Either way, he has already added his contribution to negotiations. Every government that follows will be able to claim that even the Likud leader accepted the '67 lines as a basis for the future border. The gap between the Palestinian position (2% of West Bank land) and Israel's alleged position (the security barrier route -- 8%) will be negotiated, but the bottom line was just decided and approved by the same man who, until several years ago, viewed the rise of a Palestinian state as an existential threat to Israel.

Netanyahu knows, as do partners in his right-wing coalition: Israel agreed to negotiate on the basis of the '67 borders. The rest is just details and media spins. Essentially, this is the first big achievement of President Obama's Middle East policy. It is now up to him to transfer this verbal accomplishment into a practical reality on the ground.