Parsing the Bush Letter, Clinton Statement, and Obama’s Words. Why Israel Is Upset (Part 1)

Yesterday I blogged about how the media had completely misreported President Obama’s remarks concerning the 1967 borders. Today, I want you to understand two of four reasons why Israel is upset with Obama’s remarks.

As you read this remember:

the armistice lines of 1949 (Bush) =

the pre-1967 border (Clinton/Obama)

In 2004, as a prelude to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Ariel Sharon asked George Bush for a letter of security guarantees.  In his letter to Sharon, President Bush spelled out American policy. Here is the relevant paragraph from that letter:

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

(see the full letter at:

Note how the ‘armistice lines of 1949′ and ‘mutually agreed changes” is rephrased in Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s 2009 restatement of the Bush letter: “We believe that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps . . .”

So the ‘armistice lines of 1949′  was phrased ‘the Palestinian goal of an independent state based on the 1967 lines’, and ‘mutually agreed changes” became ‘agreed swaps.’

Here is the text of the section from Obama’s speech yesterday which reiterates Clinton’s remarks with one important change:

“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.”

Even though there is essentially no change in the American position, the Obama’s use of ’1967 lines’ when compared to the Bush’s ‘armistice lines of 1949′ –especially in the context of Clinton’s statement about the 1967 lines being a ‘Palestinian goal’– suggests to Israelis that the Palestinian goal has become the American goal. More than this, the continued use of the word ‘swap’ suggests a precise territorial exchange.

To reiterate, Obama’s statement does not call for Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders, but it does from an Israeli point of view (in comparison to Bush’s statements) express as official American policy the adoption of the Palestinian goal of what the borders should be based on,  and the idea of 1:1 territorial swaps.

Tomorrow I will discuss points 3 and 4.

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