- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2011

The White House was caught by surprise by the furor over President Obama’s statements on Israel in his major foreign-policy speech on Thursday. Mr. Obama’s defenders pointed out his position is consistent with long-standing administration policy, which explains why the peace process has been a raging failure.

At one point, there was promise of hope and change. On June 4, 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama made an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) carefully calculated to appeal to Jewish voters concerned about his views towards Israel. “Let me be clear,” Mr. Obama said. “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. … [A]ny agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders.” In 2009, however, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton established the 1967 lines “with agreed swaps” as one of the starting points for negotiations.

Israel’s longtime ambassador to the United States, Abba Eban, called this line the “Auschwitz border,” the front lines where the Arab armies were stopped while attempting to destroy Israel in 1948-49. The violent patrimony of this border and its grim implications should give Mr. Obama pause before further setting it in stone.

Mr. Obama also pledged in 2008 that it would be his policy that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.” This pledge was broken almost immediately upon taking office. White House demands in 2009 that Israel freeze new construction - which the administration referred to as “settlements” - in eastern sections of Jerusalem effectively affirmed Palestinian claims on the city, which they envision as their own capital.

There’s reason to believe Mr. Obama doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In June 2009, Mr. Obama issued Presidential Determination 2009-19, “Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act,” a legally required waiver to continue to delay the May 31, 1999, deadline for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Presidents have issued this determination twice a year ever since, but Mr. Obama deleted a passage that appeared in previous declarations stating the United States “remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” It would be a mark of good faith for Congress to close the loopholes in sections 3(b) and 7(b) of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to test whether Mr. Obama really believes what he pledged three years ago.

In 2008, Mr. Obama also told AIPAC, “We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations.” In his speech Thursday, Mr. Obama simply reframed this deadly issue as a rhetorical question: “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” For its part, Hamas called Thursday’s speech “a complete failure,” which lends some clarity to Mr. Obama’s philosophical musing.

On Israel, the president needs to explain what happened to the candidate who promised so much but has delivered so little.

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