Washington — The last time President Obama spoke to the annual conference of the nation’s foremost pro-Israel lobby, he was the presumed Democratic presidential nominee heading into a campaign against Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Back then — June 2008 — he did what most presidential candidates do — he insisted that Jerusalem remain undivided and the capital of the Jewish nation.
It is unclear what Mr. Obama will say Sunday morning when he returns to speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, just three days after his landmark speech in which he angered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel by calling for a Palestinian state along Israel’s pre-1967 borders, adjusted to account for some Israeli settlement blocks through land swaps. In the three days since that speech, relations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu — never warm to begin with — have grown more frigid.
Mr. Netanyahu’s furious reaction to what many administration officials viewed as a modest compromise from the more dramatic all-encompassing American peace plan that some of Mr. Obama’s advisers had been advocating, infuriated the White House. In particular, administration officials were angry by Mr. Netanyahu’s lecturing tone during statements the two leaders gave on Friday. American officials were also irritated by Mr. Netanyahu statement directly after Mr. Obama’s speech that used the phrase “expects to hear” in saying that Mr. Netanyahu expected to hear certain assurances from Mr. Obama during their meeting.
“That was Bibi over the top,” an administration official said Saturday, referring to Mr. Netanyahu. “That’s not how you address the president of the United States.”
Even many in the American Jewish community were angry. Jeffrey Goldberg, an influential columnist with The Atlantic Monthly, wrote: “So Netanyahu ‘expects’ to hear this from the president of the United States? And if President Obama doesn’t walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.? Will he cease to fight for the U.S. in the United Nations, and in the many international forums that treat Israel as a pariah? I don’t like this word, ‘expect.’ ”
Still, the Aipac conference is what one of Mr. Obama’s Middle East advisers described as a “meat-eating” crowd, and some of the president’s proponents worried that Sunday’s address might be something of a buzz-saw for the president. On Saturday, pro-Israel lobbyists were suggesting that Mr. Obama modify Thursday’s speech when he talked to Aipac on Sunday.
Josh Block, a former Aipac spokesman, e-mailed suggestions to reporters for language he thought Mr. Obama should use to clarify his position on the 1967 lines. The language that Mr. Block suggested would have Mr. Obama saying that “everyone understands the lines as they were in 1949/1967 are not defensible, and no one can expect Israel to accept them as final borders, but they can form the basis for negotiation as they have in the past. As I have said, changes must be mutually agreed, and swaps should compensate for territory exchanged.”
While Mr. Obama did not use that language during his speech on Thursday, that is what he said when he suggested a Palestinian state along 1967 lines with land swaps. Mr. Netanyahu, in his statement after Mr. Obama’s speech and in his remarks on Friday, ignored the land swaps part of Mr. Obama’s speech and limited his remarks to all the reasons why he believed that Israel could not return to the 1967 lines.
Republican presidential hopefuls were quick to criticize Mr. Obama’s speech. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who is expected to announce his candidacy on Monday, called the proposal a “disaster waiting to happen,” and said that “at this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it’s never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem.”
Mr. Obama won the Jewish vote in 2008, but in the swing state of Florida, political analysts say that he must move carefully if he is to keep his support among American Jews who support Mr. Netanyahu.
The article “Obama Addresses Jewish Group, Just Days After Mideast Speech” originally appeared in The New York Times.
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