Obama to Israel: Status quo failing

Obama says support he receives from US Jews "far greater" than from US Muslims.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
February 21, 2010 10:45
3 minute read.
Obama to Israel: Status quo failing

obama curtain 298.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama said Tuesday that America needs to ask Israel to help change the status quo in its conflict with the Palestinians, the only candidate at a National Jewish Democratic Council conference to suggest that there is any onus on the Jewish state when it comes to making peace with its neighbors. "The United States government and an Obama presidency cannot ask Israel to take risks with respect to its security," he told the crowd of Democratic activists and campaign contributors. "But it can ask Israel to say that it is still possible for us to allow more than just this status quo of fear, terror, division. That can't be our long-term aspiration." Freshman senator Barack Obama's appeal to change the status quo of American politics has propelled him into the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders, and he evinced the same optimism on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue. It's important to be "hard-headed and clear-eyed about the dangers" in the Middle East, Obama said. "We also have to recognize that the status quo is not inevitable, that we can aspire to something greater," he continued, "we should want to have that difficult, tough discussion...about how we're going to arrive at what I think everybody wants, which is two states living side by side in peace and security." The audience applauded his words, which came in response to a question on how firm his backing for Israel was in light of the support he has received throughout his career from the Muslim American community. Obama said that the premise of the query was "false," as the support he's received from the Jewish community "has been far more significant than any support I've received in the Muslim American community, although I welcome and actively seek support in the Muslim community as well." He also noted that he spent some of his childhood overseas in Muslim-dominated Indonesia. There, he learned some of the local vocabulary and customs. "It allows me to say to them things that perhaps other presidents can't say," he said, also to applause. Obama's speech followed those of Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina. All the major Democratic candidates are participating in the three-day conference, with Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and New York Senator Hillary Clinton speaking later Tuesday or on Wednesday morning. Despite growing public support for American involvement in Iraq, the candidates told the audience that the US must stay a strong player in the Middle East. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the first candidate to speak to a three-day National Jewish Democratic Council conference which opened Monday, called for active engagement with Iran and Syria. Both Edwards and Dodd, who opened the conference Tuesday morning, called for tightening economic sanctions against Teheran as the primary way to pressure the Islamic Republic to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, though they also said that no option should be taken off the table. The Democratic candidates said that America must wean itself off of foreign oil, a popular campaign theme that many on the other side of the aisle have also embraced. Biden told the crowd to much applause, "We don't have an axis of evil, we have an axis of oil that's tying up foreign policy so that we're in knots." Biden also criticized the Bush administration for preventing Israel from exploring options for peace with Syria and "outsourcing" foreign policy to Saudi Arabia, which brokered a deal between Hamas and Fatah to form a Palestinian Authority unity government giving Hamas "legitimacy" for "nothing in Iran." Edwards blasted the White House for its close relations with Saudi Arabia and said that the country "should deal with the Saudis with a very much arm length [approach]."

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