Obama is supposed to be hot stuff when it comes to communicating. I’ve long had my doubts, but his reference in today’s speech to Israel’s 1967 borders should put to rest forever the media created canard that this is a guy who can get his points across. You know why? Because he committed the heinous crime of ambiguity.
You see, Israel’s borders changed roughly halfway through 1967. There are two different 1967 borders. Before the Six Day War, this is what Israel looked like. As you can see, she had a north and a south, but practically no middle. Syria was breathing down her neck on the north, Egypt on the south, and Jordon on the east. After the war, this is what Israel looked like. Israel had gained buffer zones on the north, south and east. These are vastly different configurations, with hugely different security ramifications.
So what does Obama, our resident oratorical genius, say? He says this:
We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. (Emphasis mine.)
What in the world does that mean? Bibi Netanyahu is livid. Given Obama’s long-standing and manifest hostility towards Israel, not to mention his constant pandering to the Palestinians, he (and others) reasonably believe Obama is referring to the borders as they existed before the Six Day War. Others, equally reasonably, are saying that Obama is doing nothing more than making explicit long-standing U.S. policy, which has always hewed to the borders as they existed immediately after the Six Day War. Both arguments are right, because the Great Communicator was criminally ambiguous. (There’s also a very good argument that, by explicitly identify any borders whatsoever, something America quite carefully has never done before, Obama undercut completely Israeli room for maneuver.)
One of the things I’ve told my children, repeatedly, is that 80% of the lawsuits I’ve worked on over my 25 year career have arisen because of ambiguous writing or speaking. When people enter into an agreement that contains a sentence or term that is reasonably open to more than one interpretation, you’ve got a nascent lawsuit. Scarily, when the President of the United States, the man billed as the greatest communicator since Lincoln, says something carelessly (or intentionally, perhaps?) ambiguous, you’ve got a potentially nascent existential war in the making.
Great Communicator? Pfui!
UPDATE: I should add here that I happen to agree with those who believe Obama is referring to the pre-Six Day War borders. It’s important to note, though, that Israel currently doesn’t have either of the 1967 borders. She’s reasonably bigger than she was in May 1967 but, having given away a great deal of land for no peace, she is much smaller than she was in June 1967.
I mention this because, if Israel’s borders were identical to the June 1967 borders, it would be obvious that Obama, by specifically referencing the 1967 borders (with some “swaps”) would be trying to return to a May 1967 status quo. Because Israel is neither a May or a June 1967, however, his reference to 1967 creates ambiguity.
UPDATE II: Brutally Honest has more on Netanyahu’s response to the undoubtedly correct interpretation he put on Obama’s ambiguous words.