Wanting Something for Nothing: The Real Reason Behind the Outrage Over Obama's Reference to 1967

The outrage over Obama's reference to 1967 lines in the May 19th speech isn't truly about "defensible" borders. It's about greed.

Purveyors of right-wing hasbara know Obama didn't demand that Israel return to the 1967 lines or try to impose any border. They know he said that any border would have to be negotiated, that security would be paramount. They know the only thing Obama said specifically about the border was that it would be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps.

It's that last clause that gives them heartburn.

They understand that "mutually agreed land swaps" means that Israel will have to pay in kind for what it takes in the West Bank. And they know that Israel doesn't actually have much land to pay with. If Israel wants peace, on terms that pretty much the whole world views as fair, it is going to have to make some tough choices. Choices Israel has forced on itself with its voracious appetite for settlements.

Veteran right-wing crusader Dore Gold addressed this recently in the Weekly Standard. He noted petulantly that, "...neither Resolution 242 nor any subsequent signed agreements with the Palestinians stipulated that Israel would have to pay for any West Bank land it would retain by handing over its own sovereign land in exchange."

Gold goes on to cite a recent article by Professor Gideon Biger, who stated that, "...it will be possible to transfer about 160 square kilometers, an area equivalent to 2.5 percent of the West Bank" to a future Palestinian state. Biger's numbers track with the solution proposed in the Geneva Initiative, in which unofficial Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed on a 2.2% land swap -- leaving 72% of settlers, and zero Palestinians, on the Israeli side of the new border.

Gold and his ilk reject such a limited annexation. They want Israel to keep far more of the West Bank - past negotiations indicate a desire to keep 6-12% of the land, at a minimum. And, it seems, they would readily forego a peace agreement to do so.

The world has never had much sympathy for Israeli settlement expansion. People understand that moving Israeli civilians into the West Bank is not about security. It is about ideology and politics. The settlement movement is animated, first and foremost, by a messianic ideology that finds little sympathy outside the circle of true believers; a movement whose followers regard holding onto the West Bank as more important than virtually any law or religious value.

At the same time, the settlement enterprise reflects the decades-old casual hubris of successive Israeli government policy in the West Bank, manifested in a total disregard for the long-term implications of decisions and in a readiness to allow political and economic expediency to substitute for responsible leadership. This is why today the overwhelming majority of settlers are ultra-Orthodox Jews and urban non-ideological Israelis -- populations that had no ideological motivation to move to the West Bank. Had Israel in the 1980s and 1990s chosen to invest in housing for them within the 1967 lines instead of building settlements, the issues of borders and land swaps would be far less difficult today. But throughout the 1980s and 1990s, political calculations led them to do otherwise.

Right-wingers deserve credit for understanding the implications of President Obama's words. Gold deserves special credit for actually addressing the issue honestly, instead of deploying the "defensible borders" red herring (though he can't resist raising it at the end of his article).

But most of the world, including American Jews and many or even most Israelis, recognizes that Palestinian readiness to accept Israel inside the 1967 lines, in 78% of what was historic Palestine, and to accept a Palestinian state in the remaining 22%, is an eminently reasonable basis for peace. Likewise, the Palestinians' apparent readiness to accept an agreement in which, in exchange for land swaps, Israel keeps many settlements -- unilaterally imposed Israeli facts on the ground that have long been a bone in the throat of the Palestinians -- also demonstrates extraordinary reasonableness.

Contrast this with an Israeli right-wing demand that Israel should be able to take whatever it wants in the West Bank without paying in kind, and it is easy to see why most right-wing pundits prefer to change the subject to "defensible borders." Greed is not pretty. And when greed is your starting point, it is hard to claim the moral high ground.

What Gold and his ilk neglect to mention is that if Israel gives in to greed, Israelis will end up paying a much higher price than they would under the principle of agreed land swaps. Such greed will cost Israel the thing it needs most today to ensure Israel's security and preserve its future as a Jewish state and a democracy: a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement that results in two states, Israel and Palestine, living side within internationally recognized borders, in peace and with security.