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CBS Edits Obama Speech to Stir Israel Controversy

May 19, 2011

As Jake Tapper explained on ABC World News Thursday night, the Republican response to President Obama's statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was "much ado about nothing." After all, U.S. policy under both Presidents Bush and Clinton was largely identical to Obama's assertion that "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." But you'd never know that if you watched CBS Evening News. Providing chum for the right-wing feeding frenzy over the President's Middle East speech, CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid conveniently omitted the second half of Obama's sentence.
Reporting a story titled "Obama's Israeli, Palestinian Surprise," CBS' Reid removed words from the President's mouth to alter the meaning of the consistent U.S. position on the peace process:

President Obama spent most of his speech talking about the Arab Spring uprisings, but he saved his biggest surprise for the Middle East peace process. [START OBAMA CLIP] "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines." [END OBAMA CLIP] But by using the borders that existed in 1967 before the Six Day War as the starting point for negotiations, the President is taking the Palestinian side on a key issue.

Another story on the CBS News web site similarly claimed Obama's address "marked a shift in U.S. policy and represents a victory of sorts for Palestinian leaders ahead of delicate, upcoming negotiations with the Israelis."
Sadly for CBS, President Obama did no such thing. Instead, in his speech Obama offered an unremarkable summary of the path forward:

"So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."

Unremarkable, that is, because policymakers from past administrations Democratic and Republican alike have been saying pretty much the same thing for years. As ThinkProgress noted, that was the same two-state formula during the Clinton administration. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, now Israel's Defense Minister, signed a document "understanding that the negotiations on the Permanent Status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338." Writing in The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted Hilary Clinton's 2009 statement:

"We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

But you don't have to take a Democrat's word for it. As President George W. Bush explained on January 10, 2008 following meetings with Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert:

"The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent...
Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides. While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous. I believe we need to look to the establishment of a Palestinian state and new international mechanisms, including compensation, to resolve the refugee issue."

If that sounds familiar, it should. President Bush said the same thing about the post-1949 armistice, pre-1967 lines three years earlier:

"Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations."

And it remains the position of the United States, as explained by President Obama today.
That it was Chip Reid who engaged in selective editing to help manufacture a partisan controversy comes as no surprise. In March 2009, Reid spoke of "Democrats raising their ugly heads." Days later, Reid protested when Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs mocked Dick Cheney ("Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out their next-most popular member of the Republican cabal"), asking if that "kind of sarcastic response... is that the sanctioned tone toward the former Vice President of the United States from this White House now?" Then as unrest simmered in Iran that June, Reid carried the Republicans' water into a briefing by President Obama himself:

CHIP REID: Thank you, Mr. President. Following up on Major's question, some Republicans on Capitol Hill -- John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for example -- have said that up to this point, your response on Iran has been timid and weak. Today, it sounded a lot stronger. It sounded like the kind of speech John McCain has been urging you to give, saying that those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history, referring to an iron fist in Iran -- "deplore," "appalled," "outraged." Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?
THE PRESIDENT: What do you think? (Laughter.)

At the end of the day, the American posture towards the borders of a future Palestinian state is unchanged. Sadly, the same is true of Chip Reid's posture towards President Obama.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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