In an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg published Sunday, President Obama addressed a range of issues on the table for today’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in town for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Among other things, President Obama reiterated his strong support for Israel’s security, and stressed that he sees Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as “sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, to recognize Israel’s legitimate security needs, to shun violence, to resolve these issues in a diplomatic fashion that meets the concerns of the people of Israel.”
One set of comments that is already drawing an outraged response from right-wing quarters is President Obama’s echoing of warnings that Secretary of State Kerry has also made, most recently at the Munich Security Conference in February, about the increased international criticism and isolation that could result from the failure to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Asked what would occur if the peace talks fail, Obama responded, “We don’t know exactly what would happen. What we know is that it gets harder by the day”:
OBAMA: What we also know is that Israel has become more isolated internationally. We had to stand up in the Security Council in ways that 20 years ago would have involved far more European support, far more support from other parts of the world when it comes to Israel’s position. And that’s a reflection of a genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries out there that this issue continues to fester, is not getting resolved, and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure.
In that kind of environment, where you’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns — for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake. I’ve said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu he has an opportunity to solidify, to lock in, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel that is at peace with its neighbors and –
GOLDBERG: With permanent borders?
OBAMA: With permanent borders.
It’s important to state here that, like Secretary Kerry, the president is not making a threat, but rather making an observation about the likely consequences of failure, for both Israel and the U.S. Nor is he suggesting that the United States would cease to defend Israel in international fora, as it has consistently and energetically done under his administration. But rather, Obama’s point is that the costs to the U.S. of doing so would become increasingly hard to bear, especially when it comes to the issue of Israel’s ongoing settlement construction, which even the United States sees as illegitimate and counter-productive to the pursuit of peace.