Obama’s Middle East Speech: He Just Didn’t Get It
I’ve just listened to (start at around the 5:00 mark to avoid Hillary’s intro) and read Barack Obama’s Middle East speech. And while it has many good points that are worth praising, overall for the entire region I think the proof will lie in how or if what he says is implemented on the ground. After a disappointing follow-up to the Cairo speech, I’m not prepared yet to say that what Obama said today augurs well for U.S. policy in the region. It might. But if we continue to dither as we have at key junctures, all the golden words and sentiments will be nothing but words supported by no action.
But mostly I want to focus on the Israeli-Arab section of the speech, which was disappointing. Yes, it reaffirmed U.S. commitment to 1967 lines as the basis of a settlement and condemned Israel’s continuing settlement enterprise. In some other ways, it did not stake out a knee jerk pro-Israel position regarding issues like Jerusalem and Right of Return. But in other major ways the speech, and attitudes which informed it, disappointed, and at times profoundly so.
There was the adoption of Israel’s perspective on bogus issues like “delegitimization,” which is a code word for BDS, a movement that promises to becomes stronger and more insistent the longer stalemate lasts (and it will, make no mistake about that). There was the disappointing perspective on the coming General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood, which Obama misconstrued thus:
Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.
In this, Obama is on the wrong side of history and profoundly so. Look at the language he used, not even mentioning the word statehood. Instead, using the condescending, even insulting formulation “symbolic actions.” Not even conceding that the campaign for such a vote will have anything to do with Palestine and the rights of Palestinians to a state of their own. Instead calling it an effort “to isolate Israel.” This is wrong, Mr. President. Profoundly wrong.
And there were other troubling omissions and lapses like this:
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat.
Here again, we see no awareness that it is often the Israeli military itself that is not a self-protective defender of Israeli security, but rather an aggressor that kills and maims at will. Where is the recognition that Palestine will need protection from Israeli violence? Where is the recognition of the need for a balanced security presence that takes the needs of both parties into account? Why the insistence that Israel “by itself” should be the guarantor of security? Why the refusal to concede that an international security presence will be needed to create such a sense of safety on both sides?
No, this speech, though it framed itself as taking the interests of both sides into account, was written either by, or with too much input from the Dennis Rosses of the administration. And the perspective of Dennis Ross will not satisfy the Palestinians.
Returning to the speech, it adopted Israel’s insistence that it is solely a Jewish state and homeland for only one ethnic/religious groups living within its borders, the Jews. No mention of the 1.5 million non-Jewish citizens. As far as this speech is concerned, they don’t exist. You have blinders Mr. President as far as Israel’s Palestinian citizens. And as you yourself said in other parts of this speech, the majority in a society cannot impose its will on a minority and oppress a minority and hope to have a just, stable society. You said it was wrong for the Sunni minority in Bahrain to impose itself on the Shia minority, and rightfully so. But you forgot Israel’s Palestinians who, though a minority, are also oppressed inside Israel. I wonder why?
Further, the speech maintained the Israeli insistence on meaningless, imbalanced pre-conditions like prior recognition of Israel even before negotiations begin. This is the way in which Obama excludes Hamas from the picture as a viable participant, when he must know that an agreement that attempts to exclude Hamas will never work.
In important ways, the Israel-Palestine portion of this speech was curiously disconnected from the assumptions and principles that informed his discussion of the human rights focus of other elements of the speech. There was no sense that what was happening both in Israel and in neighboring states had any relation to the Arab spring and the call for democracy and freedom. No recognition that just as dictators in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria were and are being called to account, so the same principles and demands hold true regarding Israel. In short, the Arab spring impacts Israel as well since it is part of the Middle East. It cannot duck the geographical place and context in which it lives. Curiously, Pres. Obama did just that.
Finally, the question must be asked in as plain and blunt a way as possible: do Israel and the U.S. even deserve, given these two speeches by the U.S. president and the recent one before the Knesset by Israel’s leader, an opportunity to sit down with Palestinians to negotiate peace? The answer, I’m profoundly sorry to say is No, they do not. For if you want to talk about preconditions for negotiations, let’s do that. On the U.S. and Israeli side there must be recognition of some inalienable principles without which Palestinians cannot even enter into a negotiating process. And Pres. Obama showed himself profoundly ignorant of where those red lines are in his speech today.
You are going nowhere, Mr. President, and going there fast.
It should be noted that Obama’s poodle, J Street, sure enough as if on cue, published a full page ad in today’s N.Y. Times which also derided the General Assembly vote:
…Recognizing a Palestinian state and negotiating now is in Israel’s best interest…Leaving it to the UN in September is not.
Interestingly, the Time’s quotes an Israeli government source (most likely a member of Bibi’s entourage) saying:
…One Israeli official described as a “train wreck” coming their way a United Nations General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood in September.
Precisely the image I’ve been using here except that I’ve been viewing it as a train of destiny as in:
People get ready there’s a train a-comin’
39 thoughts on “Obama’s Middle East Speech: He Just Didn’t Get It – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I was struck by how irrelevant the president of the US had become. It’s sad – he could have done so much good, but he squandered the opportunity, without even getting appreciation from AIPAC in return for the utter sell-out.
Au contraire, the Netanyahu response was to stick out his tongue and refusing the demands of the U.S., which bankrolls his failed state.
I don’t think that Israel makes any list of failed states, Shunra, unless you count the occupied territory as being part of Israel.
You accept that and then Israel/West Bank will places after 50 odd others.
It depends on how you define “failed state.” Israel isn’t yet a failed state, but could become one. You’d surprised how quickly things like this can change for the worse when a nation buries its head in the sand long enough.
—–It depends on how you define “failed state.”—-
well, Richard, I guess that since no one much defines failed state in a way that includes Israel, your statement is pretty much senseless, ranking with “if you define your duodenum as a balloon, then you’re full of hot air.”
have a better tomorrow.
Well, I guess the 1/3 of Israelis living below the poverty line & nearly 1/2 of all children doing so, not to mention Israeli Palestinian citizens & others might be more inclined to agree with me than w. you. I think they might very well see Israel as a failed state as far as they’re concerned. Not to mention the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilian victims & their families who also might see Israel as a failed state. But I guess they’re no one to you as in no one defines Israel as a failed state in a way similar to the way I do.
That makes 8 comments today for you. This is the 2nd time I’m telling you your limit is 5 on any one day. I’d suggest you honor my request & take it seriously.
That failed state is a home of Prof’ Chehanover, Prof’ Hershko, Prof’ Yonat, Prof’ Kahnman, Prof’ Aumann. All of them Nobel price winners.
That failed state is the place your computer CPU was designed.
That failed state inventes a huge number of things we use every day. The disk on key and instant messaging just to name two.
I didn’t say that Israel IS a failed state, just that it was heading in that direction. As for Nobel laureates, a failed state can produce an Einstein. Besides Aumann is an out & out Jewish fascist who knows a lot more about his scientific field than he does about politics. Aumann isn’t such a gift to the world I’d say.
As for the rest, cut the hasbara. If I’d wanted Yuli Edelstein to post his drivel here I’d have invited him. I don’t need you to be his mouthpiece.
Free Man, achievements can even be made in a Gulag, as you’ll recall from Solzhenitsyn’s literature.
Israel has failed its Yemeni population (kidnapping babies and covering up the scandal), its holocaust survivors (both keeping property out of their hands and appropriating their compensation, with a paltry recompensation – 83 shekels a month? come on), it has failed the Jews of North Africa (compare what how they’ve done in Israel versus France or the U.S.), and the Palestinians under their occupation for 63 years (Kafr Qassem, anyone? Shadmi was let off with a joke of a penalty for a massacre) and the people who are not halachic Jews and can’t be married or divorced there, by law. that’s a failure!
Israel can make toys for rich countries, yeah. Color me unimpressed when the percentage of children in poverty is constantly rising REGARDLESS of such successes, and when the ultra-orthodox persist in keeping women in the kitchen and refusing education to all their many children.
Yup, Israel’s a failure – and you, you’re using the talking points defined by Israel’s propaganda chiefs.
@ Free man
On your list of Israeli marvels and inventions you forgot the tepid water, the cherry tomato, eternal victimhood and national collectif self-delusion.
@ Shunra Toys for Rich countries…..Laughable. Any idiot knows that these toys can be used for the betterment of humankind. Drip irrigation is a perfect tool for a country with poor water sources.
@ Deir Yassin…Here are a few more you can add to your list, the next time you want to discredit us “hasbarists” I hope you may never need to take advantage of such evil zionist tools in your lifetime.
1. The Heart Stent
2. THe ingestible camera
3. Surgical lasers
4. Non radiation diagnostic tools for breast cancer
5. 3D heart imaging technology to examine poor functioning valves and blockages.
6. Babysense, a devise that monitors and infants breathing, alerting parents to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
7. drug delivery systems for aids and cancer and parkinsons medications.
8. Asthma diagnosis devices
9. Not to mention breakthroughs and development of solar energy that can directly effect the standards of living in the third world.
Do I need to continue….you should spend more time thinking of constructive ways to cooperate with Israel and its programs than denigrating and discrediting them. You are not doing yourself or your people justice.
This comment is off-topic. Duhay seems to be specializing in violating comment rules & posting off topic. I’ve warned you & will not warn you again: when I inform you you’ve violated the rules you will take this seriously or you will end your tenure here.
Duhay, how did you come up with that list? I am sure my country invented many useful things, but I do not think any Dutch person would know how to find a list of those items, or care to list them, for that matter. It is just not an issue. There is no need to make such lists.
And by the way: Letting babies sleep on their back instead of on their stomach, and not smoking, has been proven to be a key factor in preventing sudden infant death syndrome. And that is useful even to poor people – the vast majority of the world’s population – who cannot afford such over-the-top devices.
There are two points to make. One is that for the people living in and interacting with a failed state, it is poor consolation to know that others have it worse. Israel is a failure for many different parts of its population for many different reasons (and I think that the “failed state” designation deals basically with the goings-on inside the state).
The other is that the occupation (from wherever you see it as starting – ’47, ’49, or ’67) is a big cause of the failure, a huge sink of energy and attention ameliorated primarily by external flows of money (donations, bonds, reparations, loan guarantees) and people (aka human resources, from all manner of Jewish community in Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Moldova, the former USSR, etc.)
These flows cannot be sustained, I think. What will happen next?
the occupation is indeed a huge failure, but it’s only partially Israel’s failure, Shunra.
that Israel’s entire population isn’t living the good life is not the same thing as Israel’s a failed state. those are simply two different concepts.
He employed a straw man argument that colonialism ended a half a century ago and deflected criticism of Israel in the very next breath. That, in and of itself, demonstrates a complete detachment from reality. The Palestinians need to ignore this administration and press-on with their efforts in the United Nations. Obama is just as tone deaf when it comes to the comments about the likelihood that the Palestinians will not succeed in isolating Israel in the UN or in obtaining recognition from the overwhelming majority of UN member states.
—-“Here again, we see no awareness that it is often the Israeli military itself that is not a self-protective defender of Israeli security, but rather an aggressor that kills and maims at will. Where is the recognition that Palestine will need protection from Israeli violence? “—
the Israeli military is almost always employed in defense of Israel’s security.
that Israeli doctrine calls for waging the fight against threats to Israel outside of Israeli territory is not equivalent to being the aggressor. Occasionally it is, but that “often” , undefined, is dubious.
initially, the security needs of a Palestinian state are going to be met in proportion to how well the Palestinians prevent violence from originating on their territory. perhaps unfairly (perhaps not) they’re not gonna get the benefit of the doubt at the beginning.
however, I’m sure that there will be security guarantees for the Palestinian state coming from the US and the neighboring states. I’m pretty sure that SA and Turkey will be on board with assisting.
I’ve written 4,000 posts here in which at least 1,000 have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and with real documentary evidence that this statement is sheer stupidity. I’d recommend you take a few days, read anything I’ve ever written with the words “IDF” in it & then come back & rewrite this comment which is so profoundly out of touch with reality as to show you either to be acting in bad faith or being totally ignorant.
You’re also violating an important rule I’m going to invoke in your case. YOu may not state yr opinion alone without credible supporting evidence esp. involving claims as controversial as the ones you’re advancing. Again, making unsupported claims is very bad form here. ANd you’ve done it. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me terribly much. But you’ve done it here on a topic for which your claim is patently ludicrous & offensive. Offensive to the Palestinian civlians vicitims in their tens of thousands, whose suffering far outweighs that of Israeli civilians who too have suffered greatly from Palestinian terror. You are insulting the suffering of Palestinian civilians who have died in numbers anywhere from 6 to 1 to 10 to 1 over Israeli terror deaths. This offends me. It offends my sense of truth & my sense of justice.
Frankly, it’s laughable for you to sit there telling us what or how Palestinian security needs are going to be met. Who are you to tell the Palestinians or anyone anything on this subject. Really, your chutzpah has taken such an enormous leap. And frankly I’m losing patience. Stop being a blow hard. Stop acting like you’re an authority on what will or should happen to the Palestinians. Stop telling them what they need to do to earn peace.
Obama has just said in this speech btw that he endorses the idea that no one besides Israel will guarantee security on the Israel-Palestine border. Or did you miss that? That means no Turks, no nobody except the same Border Police & IDF brutes who’ve been tormenting Palestinians for years. Which is but one reason why the speech is a piece of dreck as far as the portion about Israel-Palestine.
Richard, you’re kinda funny if you think that you’re in any position to call anyone else a blowhard, particularly if you’re delusional enough to say that 1,000 of your posts have proven that the IDF doesn’t act for Israel’s security.
Have a good night.
You’ve levelled completely specious, ridiculous claims about the nature of the IDF. Instead of supporting them with any evidence whatsover, you now switch to belittling my statement that a quarter of my posts deal with stories about the IDF acting in ways that prove that it is an aggressive, transgressive military force the practical effect of whose actions is not to so much to protect Israel as to inflict maximum harm on Palestinians, including civilians. I find that offensive. In fact, I did a search for “idf” among my posts as I challenged you to do (& which you conveniently ignored) and 789 items came up. Not 1,000 admittedly, but not far from it.
Given that this is your 7th comment today & that I asked you privately to adhere to a 5 comment a day limit, you’re being doubly offensive & disrespectful.
The rules: when you make a controversial claim, you support it. When you wish to dispute a claim of mine, you support that too. Not with insults, but facts. If all you can muster is insults, then you won’t be commenting here much longer.
“that Israeli doctrine calls for waging the fight against threats to Israel outside of Israeli territory is not equivalent to being the aggressor.”
If you attack another’s territory first, you’re the aggressor. Period. If you allow for attacks against self-assessed ‘threats’, then the distinction between aggressor and non-aggressor is meaningless – by such standards, no one is ever an aggressor, since everyone always claims to be defending themselves from a looming threat. Now you can claim it depends on whether the threat assessment is believable. This is a) highly subjective and therefor meaningless, unless such matters are decided by a representative international body, which they aren’t and b) not helpful, since ex post facto declaration of a brutal war as unjustified doesn’t help anyone, especially since the party in question will just shrug and say ‘so we goofed. Sue us!’ and move on to the next preemptive war.
Your arguments are irrational and without a solid basis in reality.
Oh, and just to let the air out of arguments entirely: If the IDF is only employed in Israel’s defense, then it surely has nothing to fear from a Palestinian defense force with entirely defensive armaments, right? I bet the Palestinians are even willing to admit UN or NATO liaison officers to all their military units to check if everything’s kosher, so to speak.
What Israel wants – and supposedly moderate Israeli politicians have frankly admitted this, as the Palestine papers show – is to be able to violate the territory of the Palestinian ‘state’ with impunity whenever it likes, and with no danger to its own soldiers. And of course it’ll be for ‘security’ – security is such a malleable term that you can justify anything with it.
I think the speech was in part for the American audience, though I don’t think it did him any good here either. Based on comments on the NYT website, a lot of people here seem to hate the very notion of Israel going back to the 67 borders. Then there’s the large crowd of liberals who don’t know that much about the subject, who were probably pleased by the speech,but were going to vote for him anyway. And then there’s us lefties, who were appalled by part of the speech, but are shut out of the mainstream discussion.
But I think it was for an American audience because all of the bad points that you mention are the standard talking points people use in the US when discussing the I/P conflict. Israel has a right to defend itself (never Palestinians), Israel suffers from terror (never Palestinians) and what do Palestinians suffer? Emotional distress from being occupied. They are “humiliated”. If you didn’t know anything about the conflict, who would you sympathize with more–the person who worries about his or her children being blown up (the Israelis, according to Obama) or the people who are “humiliated” and therefore support child-killing terrorists?
None of this would make any sense to an Arab audience or to anyone who reads human rights reports and understands that Israel inflicts more violence on Palestinians than vice versa. But it makes perfect sense in the American context.
Same useless ranting about Iran (which havent fired a single bullet or intervened compared to the US), its so cheap. Also note how US says it support the uprisings..but have refused to back the people in EVERY state, that is Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi, Morocco, Alger, Jordan etc all the US-puppet states.
No this speech was just a desperate last call, trying to save something that isnt there, US power in the world is on the decline, obama could have sanctioned bahrain, yemen and israel but now he did some nice ass-licking on the israelis, even though this speech was to the muslim people who ALL REJECT the US support for israeli occupation. US doesnt grip the new reality, but they try with old techniques, like pouring billions into the new regime so they will follow US diktat, and in the end they will create new mubaraks.
Obama is incapable of confronting Israel assertively. I’m convinced that at Aipac, Obama will walk-back even the breadcrumbs he extended to Palestinians. In the meantime, Netanyahu, set up a meeting to discuss approval of 2 new settlements projects today probably to stick it to Obama.
Israelis know they can twist Obama around their little finger by crying wolf endlessly and threatening his re-election. He of course caves each and every time.
Unless the rest of the world, especially the EU, man up the situation is hopeless for Palestinians, I mean, Netanyahu is going to show up Obama by giving a speech to Congress, but then we all know Congress is also “occupied territory”.
I feel sad for Palestinians. They have monumental obstacles in the way. Hopefully, Egyptians can have elections at some point and vote for someone very sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians who will challenge the injustice of the occupation, open the border and help lead a push for freedom for Palestinians. Egypt will definitely lead the way, but only if the military loosens its grip on power, but with U.S. billions coming their way; it’s not looking good.
The shallowness and hypocrisy of Obama’s speech was as plain as the pompous expression on his face. Dennis Kucinich
captures exactly what was going through my own mind as he lied his way to the end, as he has always done. I agree with your analysis, Richard, one hundred percent.
Lying is way too strong a word to use & shows yr own prejudices more clearly than it actually sheds any light on the content of what he said. But I’m glad you agreed w. my analysis.
I like to call a spade a spade (no PC pun intended). He lied about the mission in Libya, among other things. Kucinich may be more diplomatic than I, but he implied the same. When someone says they will do one thing, then turns around and does the opposite, that to me is lying.
President Obama spoke well once again. It is impossible to be all things to all people with such a speech. The criticisms that have spun out already were easy to predict. The problem with public speeches is that people interpret them through their own frame of reference and make assumptions. There is great conceptual flux at the moment. The geometries really are swirling. What needs to happen now to move things forward is on-the-ground, face to face dialogue and meetings. A certain person will need to be the facilitator and overseer of the process. These meetings must take place in Jerusalem. A timetable is ready to be implemented. He will be able to prove to everyone that the universe is stable, ordered, benevolent and expansive and that violence is not innate. He will need his team of twelve assistants.
P.S. Some people and places are divine interfaces/shechina portals. The idea that some people hold the very fabric of the universe together is correct.
Close but no cigar…
The Americans, the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Quartet and the EU are close to getting the solution right but the cube is stuck. Some groups are going too far on certain points whilst others are not going far enough. I believe there are some conceptual limitations in the various plans. Current global GDP is approx $60 Trillion. At 4% growth that will reach $275 Trillion by 2050. The current GDP of the areas of Israel, Judea and Samaria/The West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is approximately $1.6 trillion. This region can grow by at least 5% p.a. over the coming 38 years. If the right command structure is put in place the Holy Land will be a platform of peace, stability and prosperity. The whole world will benefit from this centre of unfolding potential. This is not blue sky thinking. There are concrete benefits to the correct plan and vision prevailing.
Syria GDP – per capita (PPP): $4,800
Jordan GDP – per capita (PPP): $5,300
Arabia GDP – per capita (PPP): $24,200
Israel GDP – per capita (PPP): $29,500
Those two groups are in two different economic worlds. You cannot put them together.
One group (Syria,…) can easily grow 10% a year just like china has done in the last 30 years or so.
The other can grow 5% max.
This comment is FAR off topic. This post has nothing to do with the standard of living in the Arab world. Adam’s comment was off topic & yours even moreso.
So my crime is responding (on topic) to an off topic double comment.
What really made Obama’s unvarnished contempt for Palestinians clear was the fact that the claim about states having the right to defend themselves was followed about two sentences later by the description of the hypothetical Palestinian state as “demilitarized.”
As far as I understand, Obama’s stand on the issue is not much different from George Bush’s. Bush also talked about a two state solution, about secure Israel and viable Palestine. This is a lot of talk and no concrete action.
Democracy Now hosted an interesting dicsussion on this topic with Jeremy Ben-Ami, Noura Erakat and Norman Finkelstein: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/5/20/did_obamas_mideast_speech_signal_us
“Why the insistence that Israel “by itself” should be the guarantor of security?”
If you take off your purple glasses you will realise that the real victim in Middle East conflict is Israel.
Real “victims” will never demand as much as Palestinians do. They want to get everything without giving anything. If we just remember what happened to Gaza after Israel made a step toward a peace, we will understand that any further “gifts” to terrorists will only motivate them for further aggression.
He must be a newly minted graduate of the Hasbara Academy of Fine Rhetorical Arts. I’ll bet he has the diploma hanging on the wall behind him as he writes this on his PC.
Is this how you welcome new commenters? You are basically nurture fusters and Ruths.
“Real “victims” will never demand as much as Palestinians do.” etc. etc. How to respond then to such nonsense and such a way to enter a “discussion”.
That’s what I call blaming the victim. Fuster & Ruth aren’t responsible for their poison–I am. Nice.