President Obama ignited a firestorm of criticism when he suggested that Israel may have to retreat to its pre-1967 borders to secure peace with the Palestinians. Later came a clarification in a Sunday speech to a major pro-Israel lobbying group: "The parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967."
That's more realistic, but Mr. Obama's overall comments in the last few days have done little to mollify critics who believe he asks too much of Israel and too little of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has fallen into the disastrous pattern of Yasser Arafat, who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
President Obama has gone about as far as any American president can go in playing bad cop — pressuring Israel to make "hard choices" before demographic changes in the region and the events of the "Arab spring" alter the political equation in a way that hurts Israel. But instead of responding positively, Abbas is following in the footsteps of his late predecessor by making all the wrong moves: shunning negotiations, making a pact with Israel's sworn enemies, and trying to outmaneuver Israel by taking the Palestinian cause to the United Nations.
None of these actions will bring Palestinians closer to fulfilling their national hopes of creating an independent state. Abbas is kidding himself, and his own supporters, if he does not understand the realities that govern the peacemaking process. They are:
- Israel must have safe and secure borders. Before 1967, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in his well-received address to Congress on Tuesday, Israel was nine miles wide at its waist, raising fears that it could easily be cut in half by an invading force. Given the hostile environment, it's nonsense to expect that Israel would accept indefensible borders. Moreover, Israel wants to keep forces in the Jordan Valley, the eastern boundary of a future Palestinian state. Mr. Obama's failure to address this issue explicitly last week contributed to skepticism about his ability to understand Israel's predicament.
- Neither the American public nor any U.S. president will support any deal that fails to win Israel's agreement. Making an end run around the negotiating table by seeking international recognition of the state of Palestine from the United Nations, based on the borders before the 1967 war, won't work. Such a move might succeed in embarrassing Israel — thus making real peace harder to achieve — but it could never be enforced over a U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council.
- No agreement is possible as long as Israel's presumed negotiating partner, the Palestinian Authority, has embraced the terrorists of Hamas as allies. Israelis will rightly shun settlement talks unless all parties renounce violence, pledge to stand by previous agreements with Israel and recognize Israel's right to exist.
Mr. Abbas should also rid himself of the persistent illusion in the Arab world that Palestinians can't get a fair hearing because American policy is dictated by an Israeli lobby. The affinity between the people of the two democracies is based on shared values, common ideals and a history of friendship forged over more than half a century.
On 9/11, the Israeli people mourned alongside Americans. On the West Bank, cheers of celebration rang out. Americans don't need a lobby to remind them of that.