Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Israel’s borders: spin or substance between Harper and Obama

The impression has settled in that Stephen Harper blocked the inclusion of a specific reference the 1967 borders as the basis for Israel-Palestine peace talks in the final communiqué of last week’s G-8 summit (Canada, US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia).
That impression—launched by European diplomats who were in the room—has been widely reported and unchallenged in the Middle East and Canadian media.
In the bloody hall of mirrors of Middle-East diplomacy it’s impossible to know what any impression will accomplish or even its intended target. However, the story of Harper’s “veto” must serve some purpose.
In Canada, the Prime Minister has been made to appear off-side yet again: that he rejected a statement enunciated by President Obama in his speech of May 19th, a speech that was widely praised in Europe and repudiated by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Yet, obviously, Canada was not the final target for this story. A ‘rogue’ Canadian Prime Minister is strictly a Canadian worry. Furthermore, Harper’s position was eminently palatable to the others in the room—he simply didn’t think one element of a speech that one of the leaders in the room had given and that all the others had endorsed should be cherry-picked for inclusion in the formal communiqué.
Surely, the central character in this little drama is Barack Obama.
The White House’s silence on whether Harper was rejecting a draft statement on Israel that Obama agreed to include in the G-8 communiqué, however, leaves the impression that Stephen Harper is measurably more emphatic in his support for Israel. On the face of it, Harper looks more committed than Obama to the package of negotiating positions that Obama clearly spelled out in his speech of May 19th.
Maybe, Obama feels at home having Harper on his wing on Israel. However, it’s one thing to remind Israel that the US has a mind of its own. It’s quite another to appear less committed to his own balanced approach than his Canadian ally.
Clearly, Harper’s position better reflects the US position, as enunciated by Obama, than a draft statement that only mentioned the 1967 borders. Israel can’t respond positively to a call by the G-8 to negotiate on the basis of those borders without also insisting that the Palestinians respect Israel’s security concerns and the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state. 

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