Obama Still Does Not Understand the Middle East Part II

As I mentioned in the first installment of this blog piece, given Obama’s Middle East speech it is more than evident by more than just timing he does not understand the Arab World. His inability to go past generic US slogans of freedom, human rights, and economic opportunity shows his sticking to the status quo of standing back pushing old ideas on a changing world. My second installment as mentioned will analyze Obama’s speech regarding the US stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to resolve it.

Obama spent his first 80% (in the text at least) on the changing Middle East and the US position. He spent the last 20% speaking about the “change” in US policy regarding the Palestine Question. I woke up reading on Israeli news all of Netanyahu/Israeli rebuttals against Obama’s speech so I thought “wow, he must have said something controversial.” A basic reading of the text shows nothing new and a generic over hype of what Obama said. First he said:

“For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet.  Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks.”

“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 independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.


I challenge Obama and anyone who supports Israel to find me a document of Israel recognizing the right of the Palestinian state to exist. The Palestinians recognized Israel’s right to exist over 20 years ago, yet no Israeli has done the same. There have been insistences by the Israelis the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and as a moral and just state which they do not for obvious reasons. That does not obscure the fact that the Palestinians have and still do recognize Israel without Israel ever doing the same. Obama’s insistence also that Palestinians going to the UN to declare statehood is somehow delegitimizing to the State of Israel is simply absurd. How is asking for your internationally recognized rights in territory that 95% of the world agrees is your sovereign territory delegitimizing the State of Israel? How is Israel’s occupation and possible annexation of Occupied Palestinian lands not an attempt to delegitimize the future State of Palestine? Hamas has accepted the idea many times formally of June 1967 borders for the Palestinian state, this is a major concession lost on Obama. Hamas, in addition, has declared a unilateral cease-fire with Israel for now. As in many times in the past Hamas has upheld its ceasefire agreements.

In addition, Israeli settlement expansion declarations is always placed in times of American speeches or representatives coming. Just yesterday before Obama’s speech Israel announced 1500 more settlement units in Occupied East Jerusalem. As Obama says he is continuing the work of past administrations, but how has this helped the Palestinians? Is this not a sign that Israel is using the peace process to take pressure off of itself and build more settlements? Settlements have more than doubled since the “peace process” began in the early 90s. Next Obama said:

“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.”

A larger segment of each population is seeing the futility of the “peace process” and the idea of two states for two people, but it is even more pronounced on the Palestinian side. In addition to Israel enjoying self determination, mutual recognition, and relative peace the Palestinians enjoy a passing statement by the Israelis for just the first idea. The Israelis do not recognize Palestine nor give them any sort of peace. They chronically breach the conditions of Oslo which in almost every way are in their favor already. They withhold guaranteed funds to the PA, they breach the PA’s minimum sovereignty, and apply military law to those they arrest in these areas. Obama followed up by saying:

“So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.  The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. 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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.  The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state “

Now if you believe in the two state solution that has been pushed forward for over 30 years you have to believe in most of these basic principles. But I ask Obama, why is Israel’s security the only one that is important? Most negotiations deal with a non-militarized Palestinian state bordered to the region’s strongest military power. What threat do the Palestinians pose to the Israelis, seriously? As Abba Eban, former Foreign Security of Israel once said, “Israel has as much to fear from a Palestinian state as the Soviet Union does from Luxumbourg.” Why is it that when discussing this issue we always have to “factor in Israel’s security,” who does Israel face a military threat from, especially in the West Bank and Gaza? The last time the Israelis attacked Gaza there were 1400 Palestinians killed, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis killed, 3 civilians (from Hamas fire), 6 soldiers from Israeli fire, and 4 Israelis from Hamas fighters. This is the big military threat to Israel? It is insulting and obscene to keep talking about Israel’s security vis-a-vis the Palestinians. For an article by Le Monde, one of France’s leading newspapers on the issue click here. Obama goes on to say:

“These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. “

He is absolutely right for once that this will not solve the problem, by simply answering one of four main questions with rhetoric. When Obama speaks of “mutual land swaps” simply he means Israel will take large settlement blocs, surrounded by the Apartheid Wall and pull out from more isolated ones. This will be the same in Jerusalem and the Palestinians will have Abu Dis, a Palestinian neighborhood (and the sewage area for Jewish Jerusalem) will become the symbolic East Jerusalem capital for the Palestinians. I have written extensively here and in other places about the refugees and their importance in the issue. Without the refugee issue being solved justly and democratically (meaning voted on by ALL Palestinians) there is no solution.

Obama’s vision is not much different from others. You emphasize one topic and hope it will somehow achieve a full solution. Clinton and Bush did this the past 20 years by emphasizing security (for Israel) and the economy (again for Israel). This will not solve a thing, but Israel’s PR machine is doing a great job at formulating the speech as Pro-Palestinian, by simply acknowledging one of their internationally recognized rights. If one just looks at AOL news through the Huffington Post, the article is titled “Israel Rejects ‘indefensible’ Obama plan” with the subtext saying “Netanyahu said the president’s plan would leave Israel open to attack, setting up a possible US showdown. Why Obama sided with Palestinians.” A joke, a horrible joke. Where is AOL news or anyone else stating how 1500 new settlement houses leaves Israel up for an attack or a potential showdown at the White House as they meet soon? It seems as another blogger posted here that Netanyahu is preparing the Israelis for another war and is trying to use any false pretext to carry it out. As the writer points out “Violence does not serve the Palestinians; it serves Israel. The goal of Israel, then – once you move past the pious platitudes of “we always wanted peace” – is to goad the Palestinians into violence. Such an outburst will, Israel’s leaders seem to think, grant them legitimacy for some old ultra-violence of their own.”

More to come…

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