Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama on the Middle East, Again

My initial reading of Obama's speech this afternoon is that he is learning.

The first two thirds, where he rattled on about the Arab Spring and so on, had all the right words, most of which he forgot to use in Cairo two years ago, and very little substance.

The section about Israel and Palestine seemed pretty good to me. On the clearly bright side, he ticked the following boxes: Israel as a Jewish state (twice), Israel's need for security, a demilitarized Palestine, and the silliness of the forthcoming September Spectacle which will do no-one any good. He also seemed to be saying, at least once, that the descendents of the Palestinian refugees will move to Palestine, implying they won't move to Israel.

On the dark side, he claimed once again that the present situation is unsustainable. Since it's been sustained, one way or the other, for 44 years, or 63, depending upon how you define it, it's hard to know what he means. Had he said it shouldn't be sustained, that would be different: that would be setting a goal. But can't be sustained? How so? He also castigated the ongoing construction in the settlements, which is disappointing because you'd think the president of the United States would have someone around him to explain that there's almost no construction going on. People who read the NYT can be fooled all the time, but isn't the President supposed to be briefed each morning by an assortment of spooks, analysts other types who get paid to really know what they're talking about?

Then there were the gray parts, where different Israelis would have differing interpretations as to whether his speech was positive or negative. He said the partition would be based on the line of 1949-67. Many of us recognize that this may not be historically, legally or morally the case, but practically, it is. Like it or not, that's the line the negotiations have been focusing on for years, and as the man said, there will be adaptation of it, but it does serve as the base of the negotiations.

His direct contradiction of Netanyahu's position of let's wait and wait some more, will trouble Netanyahu and his fans, but is actually plausible. We should hurry up, because there's nothing to be gained by waiting. Or is there anything to be gained by being passive while the world around us is active.

Most significant of all in my mind was that Obama did not repeat the universally silly line about how peace can be achieved anytime soon. On the contrary, he resoundingly forgot to mention Jerusalem, except to say that it will need to be talked about some other time, as will the Right of Return. In effect, his speech adopted the position of Avigdor Lieberman (and most Israelis) about moving towards a partial resolution of the conflict rather than a final resolution.

Update: It occurs to me he also seemed to say the Palestinians have some explaining to do about their new unity government with Hamas. Tick that box, too.

He has learned something these past two years. Good for him.


NormanF said...

There won't be peace. The conflict can be managed.

Israel can wait decades for the Arabs to decide their century old war is not paying off for them.

It will require staying power, tact and resoluteness. Israel must avoid giving the impression its a pushover. The Arabs respect strength.

That is what Netanyahu needs to convey in Washington next week.

Barry Meislin said...

Indeed, he's learned.

He's learned how to turn the screws tighter and tighter.

While smiling that frank smile of his. (Or should that be, "While trying his utmost to suppress a rictus of sheer glee"?)

As his loyal factota---all too many of them Jews (but then what else is new?)---fall over themselves declaiming his friendship, his sincerity, his caring, his earnestness, his goodness, his pragmatism...while they, they carry his water and hew his wood in a nation where, yes, some---even many---will wax euphoric (as the knives are whetted) but where most will be pondering Esther III:15...(or the equivalent).

And preparing for the onslaught to come.

Saul Lieberman said...

"Palestinians have some explaining to do about their new unity government with Hamas" but "the international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome."
So the bottom line is do something now. Because that would really help Obama.

Silke said...

Or is there anything to be gained by being passive while the world around us is active.

Right now Israel is the only stable part in the middle of turmoil. Why join the hectics around you? Playing the eye of the storm may turn out to be wrong.

Grabbing too easily what seems a one-off chance in the current fluidity may turn out to be wrong.

To me it seems it still is a choice between Scylla and Charybdis which Odysseus survived by hanging on to a rock waiting for his boat to get spewed out again.


As to Obama's speech: the President of the United States considers it a "fact universally acknowledged" that one can't require Arabs to tolerate Jews in their midst but can expect that Israeli Jews continue to treat their Arab neighbours as equals.

Twice in connection with Cairo he mentions the right for Christian to worship. No Jews! Palestinian refugees yes, Jewish refugees, never heard of.

Maybe that is the best one could expect but it doesn't sound fair to me.

Saul Lieberman said...

Netanyahu used “demilitarized”, Obama “nonmilitarized”
Is there a difference? Maybe.
According to Mohammed Dahlan, “demilitarized” means removing what you’ve got, “nonmilitarized” means not developing a military. See
Did Obama choose “nonmilitarized” to allow Fatah and Hamas to avoid laying down their military weapons?
(I ain’t getting into here whether Obama would acknowledge the measures necessary to sustain either concept.)

Silke said...

and Obama again used the word "boldly" - does anybody have a link where that word isn't used to demand of Israel to be more courageous?

Israelis are not courageous enough? That from the president of a country with an ocean right and left, a very amenable neighbor to the north and a to date a troublesome but not really threatening one to the south.

No belligerents on several borders simultaneously in the offing anywhere.

the_raptor said...

Obama just handed the Palestinians the concession of 1967 borders as a reward for their good behavior in running away from negotiations and forming a unity government with Hamas. That'll show them, huh?

He just gave Europe permission to vote 'Yes' on unilateral Pal statehood in September. Only question is whether he is too stupid to realize it.

Ilya said...

The boy is learning, eh? Sheesh.

Unknown said...

"Netanyahu used “demilitarized”, Obama “nonmilitarized”
Is there a difference?"

Some say potato, some potato let's call the whole thing off.

What a chochem!

Anonymous said...

Silke, while the Mexican government per say isn't very hostile, some 4,000 Americans are killed or murdered each year by Mexican illegals.


Silke said...


certainly 4000 deaths too many

but that's only one of all your borders ...

look at a map and see how many hostile borders Israel has to juggle.

really worrying to European me is that the NYT told me not so long ago that by now more than half of your supreme court is Catholic.


OT but related - the world is mad and clearly getting too much for me (I don't mind tribute getting paid so that they leave "us" alone, but surely a minimum bit of decorum needs to be upheld.

PA to pay salaries
to all terrorists in Israeli prisons

Financial aid from many donor countries
goes directly to PA budget from which salaries are paid


Elder of Ziyon has a post that A'jad is accusing the "West" of stealing the water from the bound for Iran clouds. Incredibly ridiculous on the face of it, if I were a drought stricken farmer or a dislocated to the city farmer I might suck it up and feel finally finally understood.

Anonymous said...

How bad can a speech be if it upsets Gidon Levy?

Silke said...


Yaacov in Hamburg on YouTube

- finally I get to SEE him in action

- I think I get me some champagne for the party

(via my mailing list)

Silke said...

How good can a speech be, if it upsets Yossi Klein Halevi?

Yes, we can't

From where I’m sitting in Jerusalem—watching Turkey turn Islamist and pro-Iranian, Lebanon being devoured by Hezbollah, Hamas legitimized by Fatah, the Muslim Brotherhood rising in Egypt, and Iran’s nuclear program proceeding apace—I would say that this is just about the worst time to try to entice an ambivalent Israeli into empowering his dovish side.

who ends his take with this encouraging outlook:

If I were Netanyahu, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the right of return or, for that matter, the status of united Jerusalem. In fact, in the unlikely event that Obama’s vision of an interim agreement is ever implemented, the result might well be the permanent deferment of a permanent solution, leaving the Palestinians to dream about Haifa and Jaffa, and Israel to continue maintaining a united Jerusalem.

oh and don't miss Victor's naughty and/or ingenious reading of the speech:

Saul Lieberman said...

"We should hurry up, because there's nothing to be gained by waiting."
There is much to be lost by hurrying up. I am surprised that you disagree.

Craft For Cash said...

spoke the truth and no man can solve all the world problems, can only suggest but it is up to all Nations their Leaders to deal with their own serious problems and bring change about. Going on for a long long time and nothing other Pres did not give voice to , concern to, or have not ever said.

Anonymous said...

how many chances do the arabs get?

and make peace with whom?

we see how the peace treaty with egypt was an illusion

the arab world is just too unstable

so nuke gaza, annex the west bank and deport all the arabs

eff the international community

the world ends tomorrow anyway...who cares

btw...when hamas is armed, and starts firing rockets from nablus and the international communtity condemns israel for wiping that god forsaken place off the map...what will you say then?

Silke said...

you can't nuke Gaza without poisoning Israel ...

AKUS said...

On the whole, I thought his speech was not that bad, but still betrayed a naivete about the Arabs and Moslems, and their intentions. He seems to think that they will compromise over Israel, and I rather doubt that there is a word for compromise in the Arab dictionary.

I thought Bibi was pretty goo - firm, but polite.