Only 20 percent of President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech on Thursday dealt
with Israel-Palestinian issues, and only at the end.
Clearly, this was
not the main theme. Obama had to say something on this subject, but never
intended for that part to make all the headlines.
I believe the speech
was not intended to bash Israel. The fact that it came off that way tells us a
lot about Obama and his policies.
Indeed, there were several items no
doubt perceived by the White House as gestures that would make Israel
First, his tough line opposing the Palestinian Authority’s efforts
to get unilateral recognition of a state from the UN General Assembly: “For the
Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic
actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an
Second, downplaying the linkage idea: “For decades,
the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region...
Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it
impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, and prosperity and
empowerment to ordinary people.”
A “shadow” that “impedes,” but not the
central issue or cause of all the region’s problems.
acknowledgment that the US cannot make peace and isn’t going to try to impose a
settlement or even propose a detailed plan. He’s simply urging the two parties
“What America and the international community can do is to state
frankly what everyone knows – a lasting peace will involve two states for two
peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and
the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state
enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition and peace.”
Get it? This
isn’t a blueprint for producing a deal within a year, or preparation for
pressuring Israel. All the US can do is... say stuff.
Fourth, he takes a
tougher line on the Fatah-Hamas agreement, saying it raises “profound and
legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has
shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and
months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to
Fifth, he says a Palestinian state must be
“non-militarized,” which has long been an Israeli demand.
Why, then, did
he so upset Israel and its supporters? Look at this remarkable sentence: “Yet
expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity
continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks.”
this is the first time he’s ever acknowledged that the Palestinians refused to
talk, though this has been obvious to all Israelis for two years. But by not
mentioning that at his request, Israel imposed an unprecedented building freeze
and then, at his demand, added Jerusalem to that freeze, Obama shows that he
will not appreciate or reward Israeli concessions.
So while trying to be
even-handed, he’s signaling to Israel that it will gain nothing by doing what he
THEN THERE’S Obama’s patronizing attitude – that he knows what
Israel needs better than Israelis or Israeli leaders do. He says “permanent
occupation” does not benefit Israel. Well, it’s not the best outcome, but there
are worse ones – something Obama and his colleagues (and the mass media) never
It’s not enough to keep repeating that the status quo is
untenable. One must provide a convincing vision of a better status quo. And in
that, Obama, the Europeans and certainly the Palestinians fail
They ignore the problems Israel would face with a real-world
two-state “solution” under current conditions: cross-border raids, incitement,
new demands, a possible Hamas takeover, or a Palestinian state reneging on its
At the very moment Egyptians are talking about abrogating
their peace treaty, Obama urges Israel to sign another one. Israel made a deal
with Lebanon’s government, that country’s president was assassinated, and the
deal was broken. Israel withdrew from south Lebanon and was attacked by
Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and was attacked by Hamas.
Israel turned over land to the PA, then faced terrorist attacks from the
Yet Obama proposes doing the same thing again. He suggests
Israel turn over the rest of the West Bank to the PA in exchange for security
He has no interest in how ridiculous this sounds in the
context of the Israeli experience.
Now we come to the big controversy:
“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967
lines, with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are
established for both states.”
To me, this is no big deal compared to the
other problems. Far from demanding that Israel return to the 1967 borders, that
sentence really leaves the issue open.
I don’t believe that Obama “hates”
Israel. I think he has zero comprehension of Israel, and isn’t interested in
learning more. But the big problem is his failure to recognize the threat of
revolutionary Islamism, blindness about what’s happening with Turkey’s Islamist
regime, and weakness toward America’s enemies. These also injure Israel
indirectly, as well as America’s Arab allies, and the Iranian and Turkish
So, yes, Obama’s policy is disastrous, but not because he is
attacking Israel directly or abandoning the traditional relationship. It’s a
catastrophe because his policy hurts all of America’s allies, strengthens
revolutionary Islamists, and discards basic US interests in the
region.The writer is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs Center (www.gloria-center.org) and editor of Middle East Review of
International Affairs (MERIA) Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at