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President Obama, during his address at the State Department on Thursday (May 19, 2011). (AFP/Getty Images)

From 'Nothing New' To 'Major Shift:' Views Of Obama's '67 Borders Policy

May 20, 2011

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Few things are dissected as carefully and debated as passionately as the words said by a U.S. president about the Middle East peace process.

So it's no huge surprise that the day-after stories about President Obama's Middle East policy speech have generated some widely different analyses — especially about his statement that:

"We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

As we said Thursday, "those would be the borders that existed before the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors."

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic writes that there's "nothing new in the idea that '67 borders should guide peace talks." He says that:

"I'm feeling a certain Groundhog Day effect here. This has been the basic idea for at least 12 years. This is what Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were talking about at Camp David, and later, at Taba. This is what George W. Bush was talking about with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. So what's the huge deal here? Is there any non-delusional Israeli who doesn't think that the 1967 border won't serve as the rough outline of the new Palestinian state?"

But at The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler of The Fact Checker blog runs through the history of U.S. policy and presidential statements and concludes that:

"Obama's statement Thursday represented a major shift. He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a 'Palestinian goal' but as U.S. policy. He also dropped any reference to 'realities on the ground' — code for Israeli settlements — that both Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton had used. He further suggested that Israel's military would need to agree to leave the West Bank. ...

"For a U.S. president, the explicit reference to the 1967 lines represented crossing the Rubicon."

Asked about the '67 border issue, the president yesterday told BBC News that it should be "obvious" to anyone who has followed the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that those lines would be the "basis for negotiations."

Jonathan Marcus, a BBC diplomatic correspondent takes something of a middle ground between the "nothing new" and "major shift" views.

He says the president's statement reflects "the same language that [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton used during comments in Bahrain in February 2010. At the time she was widely seen as having strayed from her script, though her remarks were taken as a signal of the direction in which the Obama administration was going. Now it is explicit."

Expect to hear much more about all this later today after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who yesterday rejected a return to the '67 borders, meets with President Obama at the White House. As Alan Greenblatt writes for NPR.org, "it's bound to be a tense meeting."

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