Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must have known how disingenuous he sounded when he professed to be shocked — just shocked! — by President Obama's call on Thursday for a resumption of Israel-Palestinian peace talks based on Israel's 1967 boundaries. That's been the unstated premise for every American-brokered attempt since 1993 to bring about a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace. For Mr. Netanyahu to wax indignant over Mr. Obama's reference to the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations appears only to confirm suspicions that the current Israeli government isn't really serious about making peace on any terms.
Still, Mr. Obama was right not to back off from the only credible way forward in his speech Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington. The president reiterated his conviction that time is running out for Israel to make the "hard choices" needed to restart peace talks at a time when the entire Arab world, including the Palestinians, is being transformed by pro-democracy demonstrations. Telling Israelis that their long-term security depends on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians doesn't mean the United States is abandoning its commitment to a long-time ally or that the Obama administration is suddenly adopting a pro-Palestinian point of view. It simply means that the status quo is unsustainable, and the sooner both sides acknowledge it the better.
Moreover, the president took pains to emphasize that the Palestinians will have to make hard choices as well. He warned them against attempting to seek a shortcuts to statehood through a United Nations vote and insisted there is no getting around the need for Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, to fully recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. In fact, the president is expected to make a major push during his current trip to Europe to convince America's allies there not to support a United Nations vote on recognizing any Palestinian state that does not result from an agreement between the two sides. That's hardly the action of a president who has abandoned Israel. Mr. Obama was well within his rights to tacitly rebuke Mr. Netanyahu for deliberately misrepresenting America's role as an honest broker.
Mr. Netanyahu's blustery response to Mr. Obama's remarks ignored the crucial, and obvious, caveats the president laid out as conditions for any deal. Mr. Obama is not insisting that the 1967 lines be adopted as final but merely that they be recognized for what they have always been — the basis for drawing a new map based on mutually agreed upon land swaps that guarantee security and territorial integrity for both sides. Mr. Netanyahu had the chance to amend his initial overreaction in his own speech to AIPAC, scheduled for tonight, and in an address to Congress tomorrow.
In the context of the broader movement for democracy and freedom that is sweeping across the Middle East, the most remarkable part of Mr. Obama's statement last week was his assurance that, from now on, the United States would make the furtherance of democratic its values, rather than the pursuit of stability, the cornerstone of its policy in the region. Some will surely criticize the president for putting America's principles above the realpolitik of its economic and political interests. But Israel's leaders surely should not be among them. No state in the Middle East comes close to representing our democratic values the way Israel does. We cannot and will not abandon it. But that doesn't mean we must accept the false notion that doing what it takes to make peace with the Palestinians will make Israel less secure.