Corporate Media FAIL: The Manufactured Controversy Over President Obama's Remarks on Israel

I don't usually write on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, because while I have my views, I am not self educated and informed enough to run commentary on the issue that would be worthy of the quality that TPV has become known for. I don't plan on a departure from that today. But I did think it is extremely important, in light of the recent media bruhaha about what the President said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for everyone to actually listen to what the President had to say. Here is the President's speech at AIPAC today:



A transcript is available courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

Once again, I do not have the intricate policy knowledge to wade into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way to solve the problem. But I have been around long enough to know the media's propensity to gin up controversy. I have also been around long enough to have witnessed the opportunist conservative media's tricks to whack a strong progressive president. As the President strongly condemned terrorism and declared that a country could not negotiate with groups (Hamas) that wishes its obliteration from the map, the media built a fiction: namely that President Obama had called for 1967 borders to be reinstated as is in his major policy address on the Middle East on Thursday (video, transcript). But the President never demanded a return to the exact borders of 1967. Corporate media outlets completely ignored the President's qualifying phrase, "with mutually agreed swaps." The President simply stated publicly what the basis has been of negotiations: 1967 baselines with mutually agreed swaps. In today's speech at AIPAC, the President elaborated:
The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause) — so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself –- by itself -– against any threat. (Applause.) Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. (Applause.) And a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign and non-militarized state. (Applause.) And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated. (Applause.)

Now, that is what I said. And it was my reference to the 1967 lines — with mutually agreed swaps — that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.

By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. (Applause.) That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. (Applause.) It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people — (applause) — and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. (Applause.)

If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I’ve done so because we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace. (Applause.) The world is moving too fast. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.
The "applause" lines were not inserted by me - they were inserted by the WSJ, a paper not known for its liberal leanings by any means.

The depth and substance of the two addresses, when it came to the Israel-Palestine conflict, remained the same for the President. The interesting part is that the Israeli media, and many strong policy advocates of Israel - at least in print - did far better justice to President Obama and his policy than did the American one. In an excellent op-ed published in The Jerusalem Post, American authors David Halperin and Peter Joseph wrote:
A majority of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians have long supported the concept of a two-state solution. The contours of the agreement have more or less been known for years, outlined in the Clinton Parameters announced by President Clinton at IPF’s Gala in January 2001, in the Geneva Accords, the Ayalon/Nusseibeh plan, and even the progress indicated by the leaks of the Olmert-Abbas talks. Each concludes that a border agreement will be based on Israel’s incorporation of major settlement blocs close to - but beyond - the 1967 Green Line in return for a mutually agreed land swap. Every president since Lyndon Johnson – Republican and Democrat alike – has opposed Israeli settlement construction in the territories captured by Israel in 1967 exactly because it made a land-for-peace agreement all the more difficult to achieve. And every president for decades has enjoyed bi-partisan consensus for the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and support for its pursuit of lasting peace.

To be sure, semantics are critical in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. President Obama’s articulation of the date “1967” in his speech was significant. But the dishonest – and dangerous – politicization and demagoguery on display over the last 24 hours in response to this speech, and the dishonest suggestions that Obama has placed Israel’s security in jeopardy by imposing on Israel a full return to the ‘67 border, has been shameful.
Nothing to add, really. Steven Spiegel of the Israel Policy Forum wrote that the President, with his speech on Thursday, had moved closer to Israel's position, and made a more constructive move towards a peaceful solution. J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization, commended President Obama's speech on Thursday, as they themselves called for peace negotiations based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swapsAIPAC itself today praised the President's statement.

That a public statement by the President of the United States advocating for what has been the baseline for negotiations for a long time would set of a firestorm is a statement in and of itself about the pathetic state of our media today. It is also, however, a reflection on our politics - much of which has become based upon knee-jerk reactions to cherry-picked parts of a speech, legislation, etc. It pervades the Right wing noise machine, but today, it also affects the Purity Left noise machine just as well as they, too, concentrate on ginning up people to react rather than to think. Far too often, our media - and our Inboxes - urge us to be outraged, and act from that outrage, rather than for us to think, understand full context and facts, and act out of responsibility rather than simple, raw, ideological rage. Think about this in your personal life: you hardly ever make good decisions when you are angry.

If we are to build a better country, we must rise above that constant barrage of reactionism. There are plenty of things in the world to be outraged about, but outrage must be informed, not ignorant. Ginning up anger in place of presenting facts is responsible for today's media environment that is toxic, unproductive, and unbecoming for a mature democracy.