Obama State of Union address.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Yemen made the list. So did Mali. Ditto Libya and Egypt. And, not
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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
“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
“They didn’t even get the bones. They got nothing,” he
Usually, US administration speeches before broad-based
audiences are balanced with references to both parties and each sides’
“I was taken aback,” the official said of the unexpectedly
“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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