After Predicting No Israeli Objections to Obama's Mideast Speech, CNN's Zakaria Hits Netanyahu for Objecting

After proclaiming last week that he would be "surprised if anyone in Israel" objected to Obama's Middle East speech, CNN's Fareed Zakaria ripped Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his refusal to accept the President Obama's plan for Israeli-Palestinian borders. On CNN's In the Arena Thursday, Zakaria expounded upon his Washington Post op-ed criticizing Netanyahu, which NewsBusters reported on.

Zakaria has admitted to having face-to-face meetings recently with President Obama to discuss foreign affairs, and revealed that information before Obama's Middle East speech. Zakaria appeared on CNN before and after the speech last Thursday to give his commentary, talked about the speech on his Sunday show, and then wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Netanyahu for his stubbornness.

[Click here for audio. Video below the break.]

 

Immediately after President Obama called for a return to 1967 borders with land swaps as a base for negotiations between Israel and Palestine, Netanyahu essentially asked him to recant his words and honor the 2004 U.S. commitments to Israel which did not call Israel to withdraw to those borders.

In his post-speech commentary, Zakaria thought the president's call for 1967 borders plus-or-minus land slots "quite even-handed." He said that Obama "recognizes Israel's legitimate security needs" and that he "would be surprised if anyone in Israel would object to" the speech.

He was quickly proven wrong by Netanyahu's strong reaction and the fact that 12 percent of Israeli Jews believe Obama to be pro-Israel, although that figure is actually slightly higher than in previous polls. Also, a Geocartographic Institute poll found that 61 percent of Jewish Israelis opposed the calls for 1967 borders with land swaps, and only 27 percent supported the measure.

"When President Obama makes a tiny modification, not even clearly a modification to a state U.S. policy, [Netanyahu] says I can't negotiate because of that. And what that means is ultimately history is going to pass him by," Zakaria bluntly stated Thursday.

He also thought Israel should be willing to take risks in negotiations with Palestine since they are the strongest country in the region. "It is worth them taking some risks for peace to get this albatross off their backs," he opined.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 26 at 8:50 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

ELIOT SPITZER: The path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear for 20 years. And by rejecting it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is failing Israel. Those aren't my words. That's the estimation of one of the world's most important voices in foreign policy – Fareed Zakaria. I spoke with Fareed about the never-ending conflict a short time ago.

(Video Clip)

SPITZER: Fareed, as always, thank you for joining us.

FAREED ZAKARIA, host, Fareed Zakaria GPS: A pleasure, Eliot.

SPITZER: Look, you wrote an article in today's "Washington Post." To say it is critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu is perhaps an understatement. You say he will be a comma in history. That's pretty harsh criticism. What do you mean by that?

ZAKARIA: I mean that what Netanyahu has revealed is that he really is not interested in a two-state solution. He's not interested in getting any kind of deal. And at the end of the day, there's going to be a deal. Everyone understands what the parameters of it are. The Palestinians are in many ways screwed up. The Israelis in many ways are screwed up. But we know what it's going to look like. It's going to look roughly like the deal Bill Clinton put together in 2000, land for peace. And Netanyahu hs just always found some way that the – there is a problem. When the Palestinians were divided, he said he couldn't negotiate with them because they were divided. Then they unified. He said I can't negotiate with you because you're united. When President Obama makes a tiny modification, not even clearly a modification to a stated U.S. policy, he says I can't negotiate because of that. And what that means is ultimately history is going to pass him by.

SPITZER: Let's drill down on this a little bit. The issue of whether or not there was any change in U.S. policy – look, I don't see one, but the critical phrasing was the 1967 borders, with agreed upon swaps, as what you referred to the foundation for land for peace. Do you – do you view those words as being a change in either U.S. policy or what Israel understood U.S. policy to be?

ZAKARIA: It can't be, because if you look at the statements made by every Israeli and American statesman over the last 10 years, including George W. Bush, including a joint statement between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu, they make references to the '67 borders. Now, you could say that this was the first time a U.S. president in a speech made this kind of statement. But frankly, this is a kind of Jesuitical distinction without a difference. Everyone knows the basic issue is you're starting with the '67 borders. The Israelis give back most of it. They keep some of it. In return, they swap some land to the Palestinians.

SPITZER: All right. Let me take Netanyahu's side here for a moment, even though you know I agree with everything you just said. He would say that when there was a peace accord on the table in 2000, Arafat – Bill Clinton's proposal – Arafat said no. And since then, the Palestinians themselves have taken every opportunity to reject peace. When they got Gaza back, they used Gaza and have continued to use Gaza as a launching pad for missiles. So why should we now give them more land back?

ZAKARIA: Look, there may be an argument for not doing the deal at all. That's a separate issue. But the contours of the deal is what we're talking about. The Palestinians, as I said, the Palestinians and Abba Eban's famous phrase have "never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity." And they've done it in many different ways. To my mind, the Palestinians right now have been pretty responsible. I hold no grief for the Palestinians. My basic position, Eliot, is that the Israelis are in a stronger position. They are more secure. They're the strongest country in the Middle East by most measures. They have the strongest economy. They have the strongest military. They have 250 nuclear weapons. It is worth them taking some risks for peace to get this albatross off their backs.

SPITZER: Let me push back on a couple little points, though. You have Fatah, the Palestinian Authority now entering into this unity agreement with Hamas. Hamas is by everybody's understanding a terrorist organization. Is it irrational for the Israeli leadership to say you can't expect us to negotiate with them? Look, President Obama said as much. He said you can't negotiate with them. So what should Hamas do right now? What should Fatah or what should Abbas do, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, right now to eliminate that excuse that the Israelis can very legitimately invoke not to negotiate?

ZAKARIA: Look, the IRA was committed to the destruction of, you know, terrorism while the British government was negotiating with. The Basque separatists were committed to terrorism while the Spanish government negotiated with them. The Kurdish terrorists were committed to it while the Turkish government negotiated with them. I don't say that there is -- you know, that there's nothing to this problem but this is part of what happens when you have had a group that has been in their view struggling for national liberation, in your view a terrorist organization, and getting them over that bridge where they renounce violence and renounce terrorism and accept a deal is a complicated one. I don't know that there is a cookie cutter – a cookie cutter formula that says you have to do it this way. The goal is to get to a two-state solution. And I think if the Israelis and if Prime Minister Netanyahu was being creative about that, you can find ways to have, you know, kind of private off-camera conversations about this.

SPITZER: I agree with everything you have just said. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu should have learned how to declare victory. The speech that President Obama gave was so powerful in support of critical issues that are essential to Israel's security from the point about Hamas, as it related to going to the U.N. this September, as it related to the issue of right of return. Everybody knows that will not be – that Palestinian refugees will not be permitted to return and overwhelm the state of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu should have declared victory and said we are with you, we will walk with you towards peace. He would have looked good.

Having said that, his poll numbers back in Israel have gone through the roof, way, way up since he gave that speech in Congress. He's playing to his domestic electorate, and maybe that is part of this. Look, Fareed, time runs out but as always your wisdom on this is appreciated and we all learn from you. Thank you so much.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Eliot.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014