Speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says: “If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth.”
But there is more than one type of blindness. The search for the truth is not merely an exercise in which all grievances are considered the same. To assert the truth of the Holocaust is appropriate — if unfortunately necessary when addressing an Arab audience — as is calling on the Palestinians to “abandon violence” and to cease “shooting rockets at sleeping children” or blowing up old women on buses.
But the problem with this conflict is not that both sides won’t listen to each other or give peace a chance. That might have been a good point to make prior to the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 when Israel recognized the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations and began the process of handing over large portions of the area reserved by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish National Home for the creation of a Palestinian equivalent. But Israel offered these same Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza as well as part of Jerusalem in 2000 and again in negotiations conducted by the government of Ehud Olmert just last year. So, the problem is not that the Israelis don’t want the two state solution that Obama endorsed in Cairo. Rather, it is, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in Washington only a week ago, that the Palestinians aren’t interested in negotiating with Israel.
Even more obnoxious than this refusal to see that the truth about the conflict isn’t to be found through an even-handed “plague on both your houses” approach is his comparison of the Palestinians’ plight to that of African-Americans in the United States before the civil rights era. Israelis have not enslaved Palestinians. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians rests on the latter’s unwillingness to come to terms with the former’s existence. The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is terrible but it is a direct result of their own decision to choose war over peace, not a lack of understanding on the part of the Jews. By going to the Middle East while ostentatiously avoiding Israel and picking a fight with its leadership sends a message that will resonate throughout the Arab world. His signal that America is now an impartial broker rather than Israel’s ally can only encourage a Palestinian people that continue to reject peace.
So where does Obama go now? Back to broadcasting his complaints about Israel and insisting on a settlement concession, which is unacceptable to the wide political spectrum in Israel? Or does he declare the whole trip a grand success and go on his way? All of the grand talk and gestures are not simply useless. They convey to our friends and enemies that the administration does not think more than one move ahead, over-values the president’s personal charisma, and is so stymied by the real issues (e.g. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms) that it must spend its time excoriating its one true ally in the region. It is an embarrassingly naive episode which, I am sure, will not go unnoticed by foes and allies alike.
More important, is the weird language about settlements:
The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
What is unclear here is whether he is referring to new construction, new settlements, or the very existence of settlements at all — meaning, are the homes of a quarter million Jews in cities and towns, including throughout Jerusalem, now illegitimate? This would mean a radical break from previous American policy. What on earth could the phrase “It is time for these settlements to stop” mean? Stop what? Existing? Expanding? In so carefully crafted a speech, the ambiguity here seems deliberate.
The next long section of the speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tour de force of moral relativism — one of the least honest parts of the speech. He is in the even-handedness business so he must distort and shade history to make it all come out even. No mention of the wars against Israel, no mention that Israel offered up the Palestinians a viable state in 2000. No, it’s some sort of weird replay of the American civil rights movement. And sometimes it is downright incoherent...Max Boot:
The Palestinians are enslaved American blacks? Well, we fought a civil war about that for starters so it’s not helping his pacifist theme. Moreover, the analogy is offensive and inapt in multiple ways.
The moral equivalence festival continues: yes, the Palestinians must give up violence and the Jews need to give up the settlements. It’s all one and the same.
There were other examples of attempts to build false equivalence between the Western and Muslim worlds. For instance, he said: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.” Of course most Israelis don’t deny Palestine’s right to exist as a Muslim state as long as it is willing to live in peace, whereas Palestinian leaders have shown no comparable willingness to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.Ira Stoll:
Another example of moral equivalency: “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.” That is accepting the (false) narrative of the Iranian Revolution, which holds that America’s role in overthrowing Mossadeq more than half a century ago — a development that would not have been possible had the leftist prime minister not lost support in the Iranian street — is just as bad as the campaign of mass murder and kidnapping that Iran continues to support at this very moment.
Obama also twisted history when, for example, he mentioned how “Islam has always been a part of America’s story.” He said: “In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, ‘The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.’ ” That made the treaty sound like a celebration of American-Muslim partnership when in reality it was a treaty whereby the U.S. paid substantial bribes to the ruler of Tripoli in return for a cessation of attacks on American shipping by his corsairs. Tripoli didn’t keep its promises, and the result was America’s first overseas conflict — the Barbary Wars fought against the Muslim states of North Africa.
During the campaign I had actually defended Obama against those who felt he would be a disaster for Israel. This speech makes me think that may have been a mistake. The only chance now is that this speech will be mere rhetoric, like so much in the Middle East, intended only for public consumption. But if Obama really means it, it is bad news for the Jews in Israel and America, not to mention for American national security.