As opposed to many who were disappointed or enraged by President Obama's recent MiddleEast policy speech, I took the part about the Israeli-Arab conflict with a grain of salt. For one who has been paying attention since the late 1970's, there was actually very little in his speech that came as a surprise.
For example, there was much a-twitter about his mentioning of the 1967 armistice lines as the basis of a border for a 23rd Arab state but is this really so new? Let's say that the nationalist aspirations of the Arabs of Yesha were legitimate and not the product of the Arab League's desire to create a fifth column against Israel on truly Israeli land. Well then, if you wanted to come up with borders where would you start from? Given that you've already accepted the fiction of the existence of a Palestinian people then you probably also believe that the borders of this "Palestine" were something along the 1967 lines. (You'd be completely ignorant of history but there's no shortage of that to go around unfortunately) Therefore if you're starting history from 1967 it makes sense to use that border as your starting point.
In addition, Obama specifically mentioned the possibility of land swaps. Again, this is nothing radical. Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert (no more prime ministers with that first name please!) both proposed exactly what Obama said in his speech - a 23rd Arab state roughly based on the 1967 borders but with modifications to include densely populated Jewish areas in Yesha within Israel and densely populated Arab areas within Israel but near the border within the new state. Both Israeli prime ministers were prepared to publicly sign such a deal so why are people outraged when Obama says it?
Having said that, Binyamin Netanyahu's speech (you can find it on Youtube or here) really brought me to my feet cheering. For far too long, Israeli prime ministers and their representatives have hemmed and hawed when it came to defining Israel's inviolable needs in the so-called peace process. I recall listening to a radio debate six or seven years ago between the local Israeli consul-general and an Arab speaker from the local Palestine House. The Arab was well-versed in his talking points and quite articulate. The Israeli? Not so much. While the Arab pounded away with his accusations and fabrications, the Israeli generally responded with "Emm, well, emmm, we know we want to share the land, emmm, we want peace". It was so frustrating that the host of the debate, a well-known pro-Israel celebrity, finally jumped in and said "I can't take this anymore!" and started attacking the Arab speaker on all his points. How embarrassing!
But not this time. Not since Menachem Begin told an American senator that Jews do not bow to world opinion but to God alone has a Jewish leader stood up in the face of tremendous adversity and stated "Ad kahn! Until here and no further no matter what!"
Really, this was a tremendous opportunity that Bibi could not let go to waste. The glow from the execution of Osama bin Laden has already started to fade in the face of widespread condemnation of America's actions not just from its expected enemies but from many of its allies in Europe. Bibi was therefore able to emphasize the "we're just like you!" angle when it comes to fighting terrorism. In addition, the Congress is extremely pro-Israel in its composition right now as well as ticked off at Obama for not asking its permission to go to war in Libya. If Bibi was hoping to walk into a situation where he could tell off the president of the US and expect the rest of the government to back him up publicly, he couldn't have asked for a better set of cards than this. And he played those cards expertly.
Look at this red lines and you can see how he chose each to emphasize Israel's vulnerability and its reasonableness in demanding them: no retreat to the 1967 borders because of security and demographic concerns, no negotiating with a government that includes terrorists that condemned America for killing Bin Laden, and no swamping of Israel with descendants of bogus refugees. One by one he went through each point and emphasize "It's not going to happen!" with the same firmness the Arabs use in insisting that the clock can easily be turned back to 1966 without any major inconveniences. None of his points were surprising. We who support Israel have been saying them for years but finally an Israeli prime minister has stood up in the face of the most hostile US president since Jimmy Carter and said "Screw off! We're not committing national suicide because they want us to."
I don't know if Israel is any safer this morning because of Bibi's forthrightness but at least now the world has more grist to grind their teeth in frustration over. If they thought that Israel could be bullied into unilateral surrender of its safety, they have to wait a while longer year.