SPITZER: Did the prime minister ignore much of what the president said, President Obama said that was good for Israel? And was he getting upset with the phrasing that actually articulated what U.S. policy has been for a number of years? Quickly give me your view on that.
STEVEN J. ROSEN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF POLICY, AIPAC: Netanyahu thank the president for many of the positive elements in the speech. So I don't think really there's any question about that. But the president anticipated Israeli unhappiness. In fact, his advisers were divided. You had the secretary of state on one side and you had the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, on the other side exactly because –
SPITZER: OK. But that's not responsive to the question. The question was not whether anybody was upset. The question was, was this a new statement of U.S. policy or a re-articulation of what has been the essence of U.S. policy for a number of years? And were the other things in the speech critically important for Israel? Before I get to Jeremy, Steven, give me that real quick.
ROSEN: It was new. They knew it was new. That's why they debated it so heavily in advance.
SPITZER: Jeremy, was this new?
JEREMY BEN-AMI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF J STREET: Slightly new. The basis of peace talks for three presidencies now has been the 1967 borders and the adjustments that need to be made to it so in that sense really nothing new. The president is saying it himself. That was new.
SPITZER: But the core of this. And look, just so it's clear, I listened to the speech. I said - I heard the president say 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps. And I said that has been what Camp David was based upon. That has been what Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Barak relied upon when they were negotiating with the Arabs. So Steven, tell me, isn't that, hasn't that been the essence regardless of who said it, hasn't that been the core of the policy for years?
ROSEN: I think you're leaving aside that it was the Palestinians who wanted the president to say this and the Israelis who in advance asked him not to. The advisers knew this was going to be a problem with Israel. Some of them said let's not do this. Others said let's do it for this reason. Because it had to do with pressure on Israel, it had to do with not the legal details because they weren't negotiating the border. It had to do with to what degree should American policy be based on pressure on Israel and to what degree should it be based on working with Israel.
SPITZER: Let me try this once again. Was this statement of what the policy was going to be? '67 borders with agreed upon swaps. Was that not both a factual and philosophical level precisely what had been at the essence of Camp David and every prime minister of Israel's position for the past several years?
ROSEN: Declaring –
SPITZER: Who says it?
ROSEN: Declaring it as the American objective was a new policy. That's why it took them weeks to come to it. SPITZER: You keep coming back to it. Jeremy, does it matter who says it?
BEN-AMI: It does matter but the essence of what you're asking is yes, this is where we've been. Anybody who's been serious about making peace whether it's been an Israeli prime minister or an American president or head of the Palestinian Authority knows we're starting with the '67 lines and making adjustments. So there's no real change in the policy but the president saying it, that is new.
SPITZER: OK. I want to focus on two other things that were in the speech. One, the president saying that Israel has no obligation to negotiate with Hamas, an organization that is avowedly a terrorist organization. Does that not grant Israel the absolute right to say we will no longer negotiate? So wasn't that an enormous opportunity for Israel to say ah ha, we've now done what we need to do until Hamas changes we're off the hook?
Steven, wasn't this –
ROSEN: First of all, Israel is not looking for an opportunity not to negotiate.
SPITZER: But in terms of the president –
ROSEN: Israel is looking for a way to negotiate. And secondly, that was a well established American policy for months before. There was no debate about it. There was no division about it, no controversy. But it isn't what the issue was at this hour. That's why no one in the world was so focused on it. They're all focused on the '67 border statement because contrary to what you've just said, it was new.
BEN-AMI: Well, I think what you're pointing out is exactly right. There were incredible concessions or gives to Israel in the president's speech. The Hamas thing was one. The U.N. vote, you know, making it very clear that Palestinian should not look to the U.N. for a Palestinian state. Those were both incredible gives, but the important thing is the president made it clear this is critical for Israel. If they're going to survive a Jewish and a democratic nation, they need a two-state solution. And Tzipi Livni said that today to the AIPAC conference as well. Many Israelis recognize this is in Israel's interest. We're not talking about just the negotiations between two countries. It's what's in Israel's best interest.
SPITZER: And again, Steve, let me come back to you. When the president said that a Palestinian state, should there ever be a two- state solution that created one would have to be a non-militarized, was that not also - now you will say, of course, that has been agreed upon but restating it, making that part of the complex –
ROSEN: A very positive thing and I could give you 25 more. Because there were many positive things in this speech, but none of them were new. What was new is what you are saying was not new. The president knew it was new. Tom Donilon knew it was new. Hillary Clinton knew it was new and Bibi Netanyahu knew it was new. And so did the Palestinians know it was new. So you're really missing the heart of it.
SPITZER: OK. Jeremy, last word before I take it?
BEN-AMI: Well, we're not going to have peace if we don't recognize we're going to start with the '67 borders. And peace is not only in the American national interest, it's in the Israeli interest. And that's what the president is trying to advance and I commend him for the speech that he gave.
SPITZER: Jeremy, Steven, will all due deference, here is my perspective on this. For the president to have said out loud what every secretary of state would, every prime minister would, every negotiation for a decade, what everybody in the public who cares about this has known to be the case, that is not new when it is certainly not worth the prime minister picking a very public dispute with the president when the president has gone out of his way to make so many important statements about other elements of the policy. That is why I think Prime Minister Netanyahu made a mistake about this. It was not new. And therefore, this fight was not worth it.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, US policy
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