The principles President Obama articulated constitute a major departure from long-standing U.S. policy.
To argue that they are just a repackaging of previous statements does not hold up under scrutiny.
The very fact that they were the subject of such intense internal debate before delivery and prompted such consternation from Israeli leaders afterward underscores that there was, indeed, something new in what the president said.
- In his speech, Obama became the first sitting president to say that the final borders should be “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” (The Clinton Parameters – which former President Bill Clinton presented to the two sides in December 2000 and then officially withdrew a month later, when they were not accepted – did not mention the 1967 borders but did mention “swaps and other territorial arrangements.”)
- The Obama formulation concretizes a move away from four decades of U.S. policy based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which has always interpreted calls for an Israeli withdrawal to a “secure and recognized” border as not synonymous with the pre-1967 boundaries.
- The idea of land swaps, which may very well be a solution that the parties themselves choose to pursue, sounds very different when endorsed by the president of the United States. In effect, it means the official U.S. view is that resolution of the territorial aspect of the conflict can only be achieved if Israel cedes territory it held even before the 1967 war.
- The president also said the new Palestinian state should have borders with Egypt, Jordan and Israel, and referred to the “full and phased” withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces. This implies American opposition to any open-ended Israeli presence inside the future “Palestine.” It differs significantly from the Clinton Parameters, which envisioned three Israeli “facilities” inside the West Bank, with no time limit on their presence.
- For the president not to repeat previous U.S. government statements – that Palestinians will never see their right of return implemented through a return to Israel – is to raise expectations and inject doubt into a settled topic.