Is AIPAC Targeting Obama?

June 16, 2011 4:28 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin is a right-winger, a predictable neocon, and about as aggressive a defender of Binyamin Netanyahu as exists anywhere in the mainstream media. In fact, her entire political worldview seems to be dictated by her devotion to the concept of Greater Israel. Nonetheless, she is provocative and worth reading.

In fact, it is precisely those attributes that make her worthy of attention. Reading Rubin provides insight into what the Israel-first crowd is thinking because she is one of the first people her ideological allies call when they want to influence the media narrative. Now that the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg has sharply deviated from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's line, Rubin is one of our best sources of insight into what the lobby (and people to its right) are up to.

This week AIPAC issued a rare press release, ostensibly to criticize the Palestinian Authority for not responding positively to Netanyahu's "commitment to direct negotiations and peace" nor to the "painful decisions" it says he is making to accommodate the Palestinians.

In a sense, the press release was pure boilerplate. It can hardly be considered news when AIPAC offers a litany of Palestinian actions it views as designed to subvert peace combined with a list of sacrifices the Israelis are prepared to make. AIPAC is attacking the Palestinians. So what?

But Rubin asserted that the AIPAC criticism contained in the press release was not directed at the Palestinian Authority at all, but at President Obama.

Here is Rubin's explanation of what AIPAC is up to (emphasis mine):

In a rare release, AIPAC sent out a defense of the Israeli bargaining position. While the critique was ostensibly phrased in opposition to the Palestinians' tactics, make no mistake: these were the U.S. positions that AIPAC was criticizing.

For example, the memo states: "PA President Mahmoud Abbas is blocking the resumption of talks by setting onerous preconditions on issues that are supposed to be solved through negotiations. . . The Palestinians have now stepped up their preconditions by demanding that Israel publicly commit that a Palestinian state will be based on the pre-June 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps." But wait, that's Obama's precondition ("1967 borders with land swaps").

Rubin then noted the response to the AIPAC release by some of those attending a conference of Orthodox Jews in Washington:

The reaction among a number of informed attendees was amazement and sadness. Had it come to this: that an indictment of the PA reads like an indictment of the administration because in many respects the positions of the two are identical?

Bad news, Jennifer. It has indeed come to this. The Obama administration agrees with the Palestinian Authority "that a Palestinian state will be based on the pre-June 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps."

Of course, that has been U.S. policy ever since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (and other territory) in the June 1967 Six-Day War. It is encapsulated in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (passed that year), which established the "land for peace" principle and which was endorsed by the United States, Israel, and the Arab states.

Security Council Resolution 242 provides for "[w]ithdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." In exchange, Israel is granted "[t]ermination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."

That's the deal. Land for peace. And it has been incorporated both in U.S. policy and in every agreement Israel has reached with the Palestinians since the Oslo Agreement in 1993. It has also been endorsed by every Israeli prime minister since 1967.

One reason why prime ministers ranging from Rabin to Begin and Sharon have endorsed it is that they have been assured that any territorial withdrawal would have to be "mutually agreed" upon and that the United States will never support any withdrawal that would jeopardize Israel's security. Here is what Obama said on the security issue in his AIPAC speech:

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. And a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign and non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

The only recent amendment to the basic land-for-peace idea is the concept of "land swaps." Because successive Israeli governments have insisted that it will not give up Jewish settlements adjacent to Israel, they devised the concept of "land swaps" under which Israel would hold on to certain territories in the West Bank in exchange for yielding land parcels inside Israel. In other words, there would be no full return to the pre-June 1967 borders, but rather a return to those borders with certain mutually agreed-upon modifications.

None of this is remotely controversial except among Israel's radical rightists, who oppose any and all land concessions to Palestinians, and among their counterparts, Palestinian extremists who recognize no Jewish right to any part of historic Palestine.

And that is why Obama probably didn't think twice before he said, "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."

Why would he think anyone could take umbrage at that?

And in fact no one would, except those who are flat-out opposed to peace between Israelis and Palestinians and believe that Israel must not cede any part of the West Bank. After all, how can peace be achieved unless it is built on the pre-June 1967 lines? (The alternative would be to work off the pre-May 1948 lines, which would put the Negev and parts of the Galilee on the table.)

So what was that AIPAC press release all about?

Rubin believes it was intended as a warning to Obama, although AIPAC itself says she is wrong.

In any case, AIPAC's commitment to maintaining the status quo goes well beyond an occasional warning to the president. Besides, Obama does not need additional warnings to remind him what AIPAC will do if he dares go beyond rhetoric in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He recalls how AIPAC enlisted its congressional cutouts to back Netanyahu's position on settlements (and not the U.S. position) in 2009 and 2010, when he had the temerity to suggest a 90-day settlement freeze. He has no illusions about what he is up against when he deviates, in any way, from Netanyahu's policy. He gets it.

So the AIPAC message was probably not designed to keep Obama in line. It was designed to make sure that the 3 percent of American Jewish voters and donors who make their decisions on who to back for president based on Israel understand that the "pro-Israel" litmus test for 2012 is the 1967 lines.

It was to ensure that they carry that message to each and every candidate for office from president on down. And it is to correct the impression still held by many of them that the acceptable (to AIPAC) position is support for negotiations over the lands Israel captured in 1967, as stipulated by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama.

That has now changed. AIPAC now favors negotiations, but not "based on the pre-June 1967 lines." In other words, AIPAC favors negotiations only in the abstract. It expects all those who want the benefits of being deemed "pro-Israel" to fall in line. Sadly, virtually all will.

Meanwhile, Israel's geostrategic position is rapidly deteriorating, along with its popularity worldwide. The Palestinians have finally recognized that the United States is not an "honest broker" and have abandoned negotiations in favor of seeking recognition by the U.N. As for the United States, its standing in the Muslim world has never been lower — thanks largely to the unsurprising perception that the U.S. government is in Netanyahu's pocket.

But, hey, it's only a game — although, in this case, a deadly one. Party on, Democrats and Republicans.