- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The dust is starting to settle a week after President Obama’s major policy speech on the Middle East, and the White House must still be wondering what happened. The address was supposed to show a president firmly in command of the situation in the region, but now the administration probably would wish it would all go away.

The speech originally was billed as a major policy address, the kind of event usually reserved for the announcement of a policy shift or new strategy. The parts of the speech dealing with the “Arab Spring” upheavals were an attempt to put a framework on events to which Mr. Obama had been responding in an ad hoc and contradictory fashion. But most of that was overshadowed by the firestorm that erupted over his comments on Israel’s 1967 borders as the basis for peace negotiations. The beleaguered White House later claimed criticism was unwarranted because the statement reflected a long-standing U.S. policy. However, if there was no policy change, it shouldn’t have been included in the speech.

Part of the problem was poor preparation. Sources indicate that the president’s speech was largely incomplete even hours before it was to be given, which may explain why the event started a half-hour late. Prior vetting, particularly of the portions dealing with Israel, could have helped the White House craft a more palatable message. While talk of “1967 borders with agreed-upon swaps” may not have been new - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed this concept in 2009 - drawing attention to this model in the context of the revolutionary changes of the Arab Spring implied a series of linkages that were too much to bear.

The Obama administration is being subjected to a minute examination of everything it says connected to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. As reported by The Washington Times’ Kerry Picket, attention is being focused on a May 18 State Department circular announcing the visit of Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg to “Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.” The implication in the wording is that the State Department consciously separates Jerusalem from Israel. This is part of an emerging pattern coming from Foggy Bottom. An April 14 press release announced, “Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer will travel to Egypt, Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank from April 15 through April 22.” A release from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad noted, “Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric P. Schwartz will travel to Geneva, Iraq, Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank from May 2-12, 2011.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv denied any shift in policy and explained that the odd phrasing was because of “great sensitivity” to words in the region and that America was “trying to be a fair interlocutor.” That’s nonsense because the “fair interlocutor” standard simply affirms Palestinian claims on the city, something Israel rejects and the Obama administration refuses to address openly. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama said, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” He has not made the same pledge recently and has taken a number of steps that demonstrate he has flipped on this issue.

Dividing Jerusalem from Israel in official communiques affirms what the White House is too timid to say openly, namely that Mr. Obama sees carving up the city as a legitimate path to peace.

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