Obama’s Middle East speech missed ‘historic opportunity,’ say many Arabs
What is all this hubbub about this speech? It might seem surprising that US pundits are primarily concerned that Obama called on Israel to go back to the 1967 borders, but there was not much else new or exciting in the speech, and that was probably just another bluff, like Obama calling on Israel to stop building settlements. He backed down on that, and will presumably back down on the border question as well, despite the fact UN resolutions and international law would require Israel to give up the land it conquered, and there is no hope of peace while Israel insists on keeping that land. This story is from the Christian Science Monitor
Obama’s Middle East speech missed ‘historic opportunity,’ say many Arabs
By Kristen Chick, Correspondent / May 19, 2011
President Obama pledged American support for pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East Thursday, trying to put the US on the right side of history as he laid out his vision for US involvement in the region after the Arab Spring.
Those from nations where opposition movements are fighting brutal crackdowns welcomed the president’s messages of support. But what was billed as a major speech left some in the region nonplussed. They said that the speech didn’t cover new ground, was short on policy prescriptions, and that the president missed a chance to apologize for America’s history of supporting the dictators people revolted against.
“Obama really had an opportunity to reshape and reframe the debate and … he gave it away,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, adding that there was nothing distinctive or imaginative about the address. “This speech was an opportunity to say to Arabs, ‘We as Americans made mistakes, we did not support democratic aspirations as much as we should have, but we’re going to do better.’ Obama didn’t say that.”
Marked difference from Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech
The muted response to the speech differed markedly from the widespread interest and pockets of hope generated by Obama’s landmark speech to the Muslim world from Cairo two years ago. Many felt that Obama has failed to follow through on the promises he made in 2009, and declined to give him another chance.
“It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy,” he said, calling this moment a “historic opportunity” after years of accepting the status quo. “We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.”
Still, his words rang hollow to some in the region who see that US support for uprisings is not consistent across the region. But regarding Bahrain, where US criticism of the regime’s crackdown on protesters has been muted, he spoke more forcefully than any US official has since the uprising began in February. He specifically criticized mass arrests and the use of “brute force.”
“The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail,” he said. Later, he added, “Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.”
“I’m shocked because this is the first time we’ve seen such clear remarks about Bahrain,” says Mohammed Al Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights in the country’s capital, Manama.
Yet Mr. Maskati said there was much left to be desired from the speech as well. Obama did not mention Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain, where more than 1,000 Saudi troops remain who helped quell the uprising, or make clear how the government could be compelled to talk with the opposition when its actions imply that it is decidedly opposed to negotiations.
‘He can’t say now that he was with the revolution’
In Egypt, where the US strongly supported former President Hosni Mubarak for 30 years, and resentment of that support still runs high, relatively few people paid attention to the speech. Some who did were critical.
“He gave a speech as if he was with the revolutions from the beginning,” says Emad Gad, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “But we know his administration was with Mubarak totally. He can’t say now that he was with the revolution.”
Mr. Obama did say that “for decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region,” adding later, “but if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change – with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today.”
But, says Mr. Hamid, “If you heard this speech in isolation, you would have thought that America had always naturally supported democracy. There was no acknowledgment of America’s very complex and sometimes tragic history in the Middle East.”
Who does President Obama think he is fooling? USA has been extremely selective in its support for rebellions against dictators seen as US allies. Is that about to change? Many Arabs are skeptical, rightly so. Flowery rhetoric not backed up by actions does ring hollow, for good reason. Obama has been criticized by the right wing for apologizing for past US actions, though whatever muted criticism Obama has volunteered hardly qualifies as an apology. The right wing thinks any criticism of US actions is unwarranted, therefore even normal quibbling over foreign policy decisions of prior Administrations is to be denounced! This exemplifies the ridiculous excuse for democracy that prevails in USA. Meanwhile, the right wing in USA and Israel is up in arms because Obama had the nerve to call on Israel to respect its rightful borders! This story is from Reuters
Israeli rebuke of Obama exposes divide on Mideast
By Jeffrey Heller and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON | Fri May 20, 2011 7:25pm EDT
(Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told President Barack Obama on Friday his vision of how to achieve Middle East peace was unrealistic, exposing a deep divide that could doom any U.S. bid to revive peace talks.
In an unusually sharp rebuke to Israel’s closest ally, Netanyahu insisted Israel would never pull back to its 1967 borders — which would mean big concessions of occupied land — that Obama had said should be the basis for negotiations on creating a Palestinian state.
“Peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle East reality,” an unsmiling Netanyahu said as Obama listened intently beside him in the Oval Office after they met for talks.
Netanyahu insisted that Israel was willing to make compromises for peace, but made clear he had major differences with Washington over how to advance the long-stalled peace process.
Netanyahu’s resistance raises the question of how hard Obama will push for concessions he is unlikely to get, and whether the vision the U.S. leader laid out on Thursday to resolve the decades-old conflict will ever get off the ground.
Obama on Thursday embraced a long-sought goal by the Palestinians: that the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured those territories and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu, who heads a right-leaning coalition, responded with what amounted to a history lecture about the vulnerability to attack that Israel faced with the old borders. “We can’t go back to those indefensible lines,” he said.
In a pointed comment clearly aimed at Obama’s new approach to the long-running conflict, Netanyahu said: “The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts.”
Netanyahu, Israeli officials said, was determined to push back hard because the reference to 1967 borders was a red flag that would attract more international pressure on Israel for concessions. A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu felt he had to speak bluntly so he would be “heard around the world.”
“There is a feeling that Washington does not understand the reality, doesn’t understand what we face,” an official on board the plane taking Netanyahu to Washington told reporters.
Despite that, Obama’s first declaration of his stance on the contested issue of borders could help ease doubts in the Arab world about his commitment to acting as an even-handed broker and boost his outreach to the region. Another failed peace effort, however, could fuel further frustration.
In line with Netanyahu’s stance, Obama voiced opposition to the Palestinian plan to seek U.N. recognition of statehood in September in the absence of renewed peace talks.
The Democratic president has quickly come under fire from Republican critics, who accuse him of betraying Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the region. Pushing Netanyahu could alienate U.S. supporters of Israel as Obama seeks re-election.
Going into the talks, Netanyahu said he wanted to hear Obama reaffirming commitments made to Israel in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush suggesting that it may keep some large settlement blocs as part of any peace pact.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday that Obama had said nothing that “contradicts those letters.”
Obama on Thursday also delivered a message to the Palestinians that they would have to answer “some very difficult questions” about a reconciliation deal with Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza and which the United States regards as a terrorist group.
Both leaders want to have their cake and eat it too. Neither is serious about peace between Israel and the Palestinians; they both claim to be willing to compromise, but not enough to change anything. Obama is not betraying Israel; he is merely trying to sound as if he is serious about being a fair and honest broker, though that is all for show. How much land is Israel willing to swap to keep some of its “large settlement blocs?” Presumably whatever land Israel might propose to swap would be land Israel does not find of value. Israel has placed its settlements in land it does consider valuable; it wants all the best land for itself. Bush and now Obama made that promise to Israel to give Israel an excuse for not making peace with the Palestinians, as everyone knows the Palestinians are unlikely to accept that kind of raw deal. That way, Israel can use that reluctance to say Palestinians are unwilling to compromise, therefore they are the roadblock, not serious about making peace. This is all a spin game. Israel can maintain its choking occupation of Palestinian land while USA meekly protests and the peace process goes nowhere. This is by design of both Israel and USA. The Palestinians should continue their efforts to win UN recognition of their state, and UN should use the occasion to put this rogue nation and international scofflaw, Israel, in its place. However, I cannot be optimistic that will happen. It seems as unlikely as UN putting the rogue nation and international scofflaw, USA, in its place.
Cry me a river, Israel, about those indefensible borders. Israel is one of the strongest military powers in the world. The borders Israel wants are indefensible as a matter of international law. That is an “unshakable fact” Israel refuses to accept. Netanyahu says Israel cannot go back to those borders? That is a typical distortion of those wielding illegitimate power over others. Israel is not willing to go back, but that does not mean it could not. It is true that, “The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality,” but what Israel calls reality is what they want to force on the Palestinians. Israel needs to get real. Since it will not, UN, and USA, should recognize a Palestinian state, which would force Israel to deal with reality, as opposed to what it calls reality.