So, the President came out and said what no other president stated before as policy: Israel shall return to the 1967 border lines as a basis for future peace negotiations with the nascent Palestinian state.
Since that (abridged here) statement was issued, the usual suspects have lined up to wail and rend their garments; and it became a lifeline for the Mitt Romney campaign that finally had something to point to that wasn't health-care-putdown-of-the-week.
What is lost in all the kerfuffle is a sneaking suspicion on my part --and I know I can't be the only one-- that this whole thing is all an act.
Oy vey! How could it be!?
Well, I'll admit that I lived in Israel for four years. For 2 years I was in Beer-Sheva, attending Ben-Gurion University of the Negev from 1998-2000. There, I met a girlfriend and I lived with her in the Tel Aviv area for another 2 years, from 2000-2002.
It's said that after you've been to Israel for a week, you could write an article on it. Live there for a month and you could write a chapter in a book. Live there for a year and you could write a book; live there for any longer and you won't bother, because you finally see what a Sisyphean task it would be to nail down every corner.
But every so often I can't help it.
In the interests of full disclosure, allow me to admit that I am Jewish and love Israel, and that said I am also a Two-Stater; which means I believe in a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders which will include some "give-and-take" among both sides. I see this as the most politically realistic and sustainable idea, with talks of a unified bi-national state to be dead-on-arrival.
The truth is, the largely unspoken but universally recognized truth of all the folks-on-the-street involved (and this includes Arabs I met, Palestinians and otherwise; Muslim and otherwise) is that sooner or later there will be two states for two people, and the 1967 border will form the basic framework for it. The only real argument is who will move first, because (of course) the first one to concede is the "loser" and no one wants to be that. Both sides want to negotiate from strength.
When the Israelis and Palestinians started dividing things among them under Oslo, the 1967 border was the starting place. During the Clinton negotiations at Camp David, it was the same. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, they wirhdrew in accordance with the 1967 borders vis-a-vis Gaza. When Israel put up their Security Fence, they mostly followed the 1967 border, with a few variations for Settlement grown on the border.
So the Israelis, without admitting it openly, have tacitly agreed that the 1967 border is, in fact, a future border. They won't use the term "border" because a border implies "another country".
Here's the tricky part: now that the United States has decided to make the 1967 lines a starting place for a "border", Israel can howl and scream that it is being forced to do this against their will. Netanyahu has street cred as an Israeli hawk; no one can say he's molly-coddling the Palestinians. If he (eventually) accepts the border openly, the border everyone has accepted as a border in all but name, he can say to Israelis "I didn't do this; it was forced on me by the Americans!" That way, Israel can accept the border without looking like they buckled under Arab pressure-- they accepted the border because they buckled under American pressure, which is palatable.
But Netanyahu can't just say "Oh, shucks, yeah, okay, I guess this'll be the border." He has to be seen putting up a fight. He has to be seen, howling with outrage, kicking and screaming, and bucking the Americans every way. That way he keeps credentials with the Israeli people. And, it appears to the Arab world that Israel was put in a head-lock and forced to agree. They'll like that.
No doubt many will read this and think I am giving too much credit to Netanyahu. Can he out-DeGaulle DeGaulle? Honestly, on his own, I don't think so. I personally think Netanyahu is a loathesome individual, and he does no favors for the image of the Jewish and Israeli people world wide. And his sidekick Avigdor Lieberman is worse. I think Netanyahu is being painted into a corner and he'll be forced to accept this border despite himself. What makes this worse is that if he does accept the border, and strike a deal that leads to peace, he'll be seen as a "hero", which is almost too much irony to stand. But I'm willing to stomach it if the results are realistic.
So I think we're in for several months of arguing, yelling, accusations, recriminations, and maybe even threats of one sort or another. It will be intense, it will roil political divisions and ugly things will be said. I also think that most of it will be carefully stage managed theater, so that when the paper comes out and signatures are put on it, Israelis and Palestinians can both go back to their populations and say, "It isn't perfect, but what can we say? It is being forced on us and we must accept". It has to be that way because, left to themselves, they won't do it. No one wants to be the first to blink.
So that's my theory. I could be wrong-- one thing's for sure, if you talk about the Middle East and you don't hedge your bets, you're a fool. But I hope we're entering the beginning of the end of this nonsense. Because the status quo is unsustainable, and everyone knows it.
We shall see.