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1967 and all that

Barack Obama is not the first US president to advocate a peace settlement based on pre-Six Day War l

By Duncan Robinson

A press release dropped into my inbox from the World Jewish Congress this afternoon. It had an interesting headline:

Obama is the first sitting US president to endorse 1967 lines

Golly. A US president making a significant break with previous foreign policy? What a great story! Unfortunately, it’s not true. Put simply, Obama is not the first sitting US president to endorse 1967 lines. They got one thing right – Obama did endorse the 1967 lines last night. Obama said:

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.

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But this is not new. Here’s a Times story from 2008 that makes clear Obama’s plans for a peace settlement based on 1967 lines. Indeed, a settlement based on pre-Six Day War borders has been a facet of US foreign policy since Bill Clinton, according to Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic.

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This is what Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were talking about at Camp David, and later, at Taba. This is what George W Bush was talking about with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. So what’s the huge deal here?

In other words, the fact that a US-backed peace deal will be based on 1967 lines is old, old news. Far more interesting in this debacle is the breakdown in the relationship between the White House and the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. According to Helene Cooper in the New York Times:

President Obama has told aides and allies that he does not believe that Mr Netanyahu will ever be willing to make the kind of big concessions that will lead to a peace deal.

Obama’s speech last night does not seem to have warmed the relationship, either. Indeed, Obama’s speech was deliberately organised in order to gazump a Netanyahu speech that was to be given to Congress later this month.

As my colleague Mehdi Hasan points out, the US Congress might have a very close relationship with Israel, but the executive branch – for the moment, at least – does not.