President Obama's major speech on the Middle East Thursday will come back to haunt him. He said nothing that will have any impact in deterring Syrian government violence against pro-democracy protestors, but the president did make pronouncements that threaten another state in the Middle East: Israel, America's strongest ally in the region.
In his speech Thursday, the president paid lip service to Israeli security but laid down dangerous markers for restarting peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. With this speech, Obama became the first American president to require that Israel accept its pre-1967 borders as a starting point to negotiations with the Palestinians.
This is a dramatic departure from U.S. policy, which recognized that agreed-to final borders would be the end product of negotiations between the parties, not a precondition to starting talks. In essence, what Obama has called for is unilateral concessions from Israel without a single concrete concession from the Palestinians.
What makes this even more dangerous is that a terrorist group dedicated to the destruction of Israel -- Hamas -- governs Palestinians in Gaza. On the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is in the hands of a Hamas-Fatah coalition, with the two groups having agreed to put aside their differences in order to demand recognition of a Palestine state by the United Nations this fall. If that happens, there will be no such thing as what the president termed "a secure Israel."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to respond, calling Israel's pre-1967 borders "indefensible." History proves he's right. In 1967, Israel was on the eve of an all-out assault by its Arab neighbors when it took out the Egyptian and Syrian air forces. Within six days, Israel had defeated Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon and gained significant territory, including the Arab-controlled parts of Jerusalem.
Nonetheless, Israel was attacked again a few years later. In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched an offensive on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Again, Israel was successful in defeating both countries and gained more territory in the process.
Even though Israel was twice the victor, both wars were the result of Arab aggression. Yet Israel has proven its willingness to return territory gained in war. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt after negotiating a peace settlement with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Israel has been the one country in the area willing from the start to negotiate away land in return for recognition of its right to exist and a promise of peaceful coexistence from its neighbors. But instead of encouraging that precedent, Obama wants unilateral territorial concessions from Israel in return for empty promises.
The good news is that the Obama plan will go nowhere. There is no chance that Congress will support the administration's heavy-handed pressure on Israel. And the Israelis will never agree to such conditions as a prerequisite to peace negotiations.
And Obama has hurt himself domestically as well. Jewish donors and voters were an important part of Obama's winning coalition in 2008. But many in the pro-Israel community are deeply disturbed at what they see as the president's lukewarm support for Israel and will not likely give him the same level of support in 2012.
On Sunday, the president is set to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most influential lobbying groups in the country. I expect he'll say all the right things about how important an ally Israel is to the United States and that our two countries share common values and principles. The audience will applaud politely -- and some die-hard Democrats in the group may even tell themselves that Obama is a good friend to Israel.
But the president can't have it both ways. He can't give a speech Thursday that makes dangerous demands on Israel and pretend a few days later that his words have not damaged the important U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Obama has abandoned Israel. Now its time that Israel's supporters in the U.S. abandon him.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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