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Obama, Rhetoric and “The 1967 Borders”

Obama, Rhetoric and “The 1967 Borders”


“The 1967 Borders”

It’s easy to imagine that the Obama and Netanyahu tit-for-tat was deliberate and–on the part of at least one of the parties–very calculating.

I’d first started writing just after Obama’s first Middle East/North Africa (MENA)-Israel/Palestine speech, but then came Netanyahu’s Oval Office display, where he erected his straw-golem before our eyes, and before I reluctantly commented on that, Obama’s AIPAC address closed the rhetorical circle for that round.

The Obama Speech

Though my first thoughts after the speech were more about MENA than Israel/Palestine, clearly that rhetorical loop has since colored this germinal event. Regarding Israel/Palestine, my main reaction to the central point (yet so often misrepresented, most egregiously by Mr. Bibi himself) was that it was refreshing to hear the formulation articulated by the President in that context; namely, Israeli/Palestinian land swaps with the pre-’67 borders as a starting point. Of course, the use of the phrase, “1967 borders” ensured a reaction from Netanyahu.

Associated Press

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

Still, the important part of this phrase is the caveat, “mutually agreed swaps”. And no, BTW, this is not a shift in US policy, not even a “subtle” one.

Netanyahu’s Oval Office Display

After recovering from the initial logical shock, my first thoughts were that the confluence of MENA events, the Hamas/Fatah unity deal, and the looming UN vote have left Netanyahu in a bit of a state. Though let me be clear, the possibility of a new Egyptian regime reneging on the Camp David accords, and the regional implications of a regime capable of this are–however unlikely–worthy of concern. Netanyahu clearly does not agree with the Preaident that the time is ripe and we all risk getting “on the wrong side of history” if we don’t return to the table now.

Wikimedia Commons

The AIPAC Speech

Now Obama’s canniness begins to clarify. Having anticipated Netanyahu’s obdurate attempt to humiliate him, he restates his case in a sort of counter-obduracy, and somehow doing so in front of AIPAC has more force than doing so in front of Netanyahu, because while the latter will go as will Obama, the American-Israel lobby will endure (though its character may–or that of American Zionism may–change). Thus he makes it clear that his position isn’t changing; or not, at least, without some concessions from Israel. This would be potent stuff, a potential act of “speaking truth to power” save for the fact that he undermines the force of this position by making it clear that US support for Israel (i.e. the “ironclad” bond) isn’t actually contingent on any movement. Still, it looks like by closing this loop the pressure on Netanyahu exceeds that of what would be on Obama.

Mr. Bibi Goes to Congress (Reuters)


Favorite Speeches, Rhetoric, and Porn

Before the furore, my intention was to use the speech as a pretext to hold forth on substance “versus” rhetoric (they’re not mutually exclusive of course). Before citing a few of my favorite Obama speeches, I first wanted to quote Mark Danner’s marvelous meta-speech to graduating students from Berkeley’s Department of Rhetoric (hence the meta):

There is a sense, I’m afraid, that being invited to deliver The Speech to students of Rhetoric is akin to being asked out for a romantic evening by a porn star: Whatever prospect you might have of pleasure is inevitably dampened by performance anxiety — the suspicion that your efforts, however enthusiastic, will inevitably be judged according to stern professional standards.

It’s really quite a speech, and no so meta- nor amusing as that. It’s about war, politics and society. Quite stunning and recommended.

And moving forward, a few favorite Obama speeches in reverse-chronological order.

The Tucson Memorial (The Gabby Giffords Speech)
Marvelous. The President takes a horrific event, contextualizes it, and President takes a horrific event, contextualizes it, and turns it into a frame Americans can rally to.


The Victory Speech
It’s a shame so many would be so surprised that this would be a farewell to pure soaring “yes we can” rhetoric–sadly, one has to govern as well as inspire. If the Obama presidency were Pet Sounds, this would be “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.


The Reverend Wright Speech
Not only does candidate Obama distance himself from Wright and the related controversy, but reframes the whole debacle as a call to American transcendence of the ideological and institutional bigotry that inheres despite the great civil right progress we so proudly tout. Shame on you, pundits and chattering class!


In closing, I’ll return to the Danner:

Contingency, accidents, the metaphysical ironies that seem to stitch history together like a lopsided quilt — all these have no place in the imperial vision. A perception of one’s self as “history’s actor” leaves no place for them. But they exist and it is invariably others, closer to the ground, who see them, know them, and suffer their consequences.


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