Analysis: Something left unsaid

US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address leaves out Palestinians.

February 14, 2013 01:40
2 minute read.
Obama State of Union address

Obama State of Union address. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – Yemen made the list. So did Mali. Ditto Libya and Egypt. And, not surprisingly, Israel.

In all, US President Barack Obama referenced eight countries in the broader Middle East and North Africa during his State of the Union address Tuesday night. But one group was not mentioned: the Palestinians.

Instead, when it came to the prospects of a regional agreement, Obama said only, “We will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.”

Though neither Israelis nor Palestinians are guaranteed a slot in the State of the Union – Obama has actually never uttered the word “Palestinian” in his annual address to Congress and has occasionally left out Israel as well – this year’s omission was notable for its timing.

The White House announced last week that the president would be traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan as part of a Middle East swing in the spring, and Obama himself noted the upcoming trip in Tuesday’s speech.

Furthermore, Obama listed so many other regional actors that the Palestinian oversight is more obvious than usual, particularly when he specifically referenced the issue of peace in mentioning Israel.

Still, Ghaith al-Omari of the American Task Force for Palestine, said the trip itself is more important than the language Obama chose to use in an address largely focused on domestic issues.

“He made the big statement when he announced that he was going to visit Ramallah,” Omari said. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect on the immediate policy, but the message that the president is still committed to this issue is the one that is coming through.”

David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s project for the peace process, warned against reading too much into Obama’s word choice on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it would be accurate to say they’ve abandoned” the Palestinians or the peace process, Makovsky said.

But he pointed out, “The administration knows that they’re not on the verge of a comprehensive peace agreement with the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

So that reality could be reflected in what phrasing is used in the address.

The annual speech to Congress is a carefully constructed speech read from a teleprompter that leaves little room for slips of the tongue.

And much of the world hangs on every word the president utters in his delivery.

One official with a dovish American Jewish organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he felt bad for his Palestinian friends when watching the speech.

“They didn’t even get the bones. They got nothing,” he reflected.

Usually, US administration speeches before broad-based audiences are balanced with references to both parties and each sides’ goals.

“I was taken aback,” the official said of the unexpectedly one-sided language.

“It’s disappointing,” he continued, “not only for Palestinians, but for people who expect there to be some kind of breakthrough when he comes to the region.”

Now, he said, “The question is whether that expectation is justified or not.”

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