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Thursday, May 19, 2011

My review of Obama's speech

Here is an article I wrote about President Obama's speech, which is unfortunately now only available here:


The Obama speech was clearly wordsmithed to keep Zionists as happy as possible while he slipped in a major US policy change. As far as I can tell, this is the first time that a US president has announced that the solution must be based on the so-called “1967 lines” as opposed to the previous position that the borders must be determined through negotiations.
Now, this has been the Israeli position–or at least the Labor and Kadima position–since 2000, and it is hard to ask the US to be more righteous than the Pope. But it is still a change in policy and it makes it much more difficult for Jews to believe that they will continue to have free access to their holiest sites.
On the other hand, he did have quite a few good things in the speech in regards to Israel. (Of course, my speech for him would have been better!)
Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.
For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.
Mentioning incitement is important. It was a bit underemphasized but at least it was there.
My Administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continuesPalestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on for decades, and sees a stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward.
Israel has been very bad at telling the world that the “settlement activities” have all been within the existing boundaries of the villages and towns for years now. In short, no new land is being taken. I would argue that this is a mistake–only if Palestinian Arabs see land actually disappearing will they have incentive to negotiate; right now the status quo is not a danger to them.
But it was good that Obama mentioned exactly who walked away from negotiations.
I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
Here Obama is implying that the US will not support the September stunt, which is a huge blow for Abbas.  And he is bringing the Hamas issue to the forefront.
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
Again, at least he isn’t framing it as “Israel alone” must take steps for peace.
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possibleThe international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.
I assume that he is referring to rockets with the “technology” sentence. In fact, nothing can really stop that except a serious security presence.
Saying that all Arabs must accept peace is important.
The international community being tired seems a curious reason to move forward.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Again, a key phrase–especially since so many, like J-Street, insist that the US must do exactly that: impose peace. This is a welcome indication that Obama is not blindly following the J-Street/Tom Friedman line.
At least until the next election.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and 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. 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 potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
He quotes UN Resolution 242 here, which is good. How it is possible is a completely different question.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign,non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
The “by itself” is a nice response to those who claim that American lives are being put at risk by Israel.
The “non-militarized state” part has been Netanyahu’s mantra, and it is  nice to hear it from Obama. Realistically, however, for how long can we expect a “Palestine” to be non-militarized if it is independent? It sounds nice, it is necessary, but I cannot see it lasting more than a decade. Which is an eyeblink in Middle East terms.
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
Actually, the Jerusalem issue and the idea of “secure and recognized borders” issue are pretty much mutually exclusive.
It would have been good if Obama mentioned the obvious: that Arab states will have to be part of the solution for “refugees.” By staying away from that he is ensuring more misery. The truth must be stated.
Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.
The Hamas issue shouldn’t just worry Israel–it should worry the Quartet as well.  This makes it sound like he is putting daylight between the prior insistence of Hamas accepting the Quartet pre-requisites for being accepted and the current thinking. This is something to be concerned about.
I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. He said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” And we see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate…Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow”
That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.
I expected much worse. But I think that the Palestinian Arabs expected much, much more. Their tweets so far are reflecting sheer anger. Given that they regard everything as a zero-sum game, then at least from their perspective this is a huge win for Israel and Netanyahu.


Also , I just received Prime Minister Netanyahu's official reaction to the speech:

Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace.  Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.           That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress.  Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel. Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace. Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River. Prime Minister Netanyahu will also express his disappointment over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas, a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as over Mahmoud Abbas’s recently expressed views which grossly distort history and make clear that Abbas seeks a Palestinian state in order to continue the conflict with Israel rather than end it.