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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Arabs hated Obama's speech

I have taken a little (offline) flack in my instanalysis of Obama's speech as being something that Arabs wouldn't like, because the meme that quickly bubbled up in right-wing circles (and among some Israelis) that Obama was throwing Israel under the bus. Memetics is often the enemy of truth.

It is possible that I downplayed the importance of his "1967 lines" reference, especially since the White House had denied earlier that the president would mention it. In retrospect, I am almost happy that Obama did say it because otherwise we might not have witnessed Bibi's opportunity to clearly and articulately lay out Israel's red lines - something that was badly needed.

When I analyze a piece of text, I try not to start off with bias about the source, although I will be skeptical about whether the author is being consistent. I am afraid that too many people - the same people who bitterly complained about "Bush Derangement Syndrome" - have adopted the same formula for Obama, and will reflexively attack whatever he says, even if the first part of his speech sounded a lot like what Bush would have said.

There was a lot to Obama's speech. Only a part of it was about the Israeli/Arab conflict. Much - not all, but much - of it was decidedly pro-Israel. This is not to say definitively that the White House has changed positions or has started to see the light. But on its own merits, there was a lot to like, and it is a shame that this is being downplayed in the glare of the "1967" issue.

But don't take my word for it. Here's part of an op-ed in Ma'an:

In his Middle East speech, Obama adopted the Israeli story and their demands; he spoke as if he were the Israeli prime minister.

In fact, Obama called for a Jewish state, a land swap without defining the size of this land, gradual and phrased withdrawal from occupied territories, a Palestinian demilitarized state, and strong and strict security arrangements for the sake of Israel, postponing the core issues such as Jerusalem and the refugees.

The speech included what Israel always asked Palestinians for, security arrangements, which in fact was the main issue for Israel during 20 years of negotiations.

Most importantly, with severe contempt, Obama threatened Palestinians. He warned them of attempting to attain recognition at the UN, he said he would not allow them to isolate Israel; he looked at this step as an attempt to delegitimize Israel. This won't create an independent state, Obama said.

According to Israelis, the above points were on the agenda of Netanyahu. "What more could he want," an Israeli source stated. Obama rejected the Palestinian reconciliation agreement as well as the Palestinians' recognition campaign.

Obama promised he wouldn’t impose a deal on Israel, he demanded both sides return to negotiations. He did not condemn the settlement building in the occupied territories, he didn’t consider them as illegitimate or obstructing the peace process as he did before, and of course he didn’t call for a settlement freeze. On the contrary, he was trying to justify the settlements by saying they continue because negotiations stopped.
It doesn't look like there is too much love for Obama's speech on the other side. And this story is not being reported much.

UPDATE: The NYT did say today:
Nabil Shaath, a leader of Mr. Abbas’s party and a veteran negotiator, said that Mr. Obama’s speech had “contained little hope for the Palestinians,” except for the one sentence that spoke of the borders of a future Palestinian state being based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, a shift in American diplomatic language that addressed a long-held Palestinian demand.
(h/t Challah Hu Akbar)