President Obama’s Speech on Mideast Falls Short
NEW YORK May 21, 2011 - President Obama’s preemptive speech of May 19th on U.S. Mideast policy fell far short of what is required to act as a broker for peace. While the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) is pleased that President Obama has re-engaged in the pursuit of peace for the Middle East, we are disappointed that the president’s speech lacked any concrete steps for either party to take. It is well known that the differences in this conflict are far too great to be breached without a third party, and the U.S. is the only third party who has the power to pressure both the Israelis and the Palestinians towards concessions. In advance of the Israeli prime minister speaking to a joint session of congress, this was the moment for President Obama to lay out concrete steps that each side must take, and it is a great shame that he chose to speak only rhetorically.
Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, demonstrates how tilted the speech was towards Israel in his piece entitled Obama Demolished Palestinian Chances for Statehood: “Regrettably, the President also voiced reservations about the Palestinian unity government. The United States supports Israel's demand for the Palestinian state to be demilitarized, it supports postponing discussions on the refugees and Jerusalem, it talks about Israel's security and Israel's security alone, saying nothing about security for Palestinians.”
In point of fact, there was nothing new in the president’s speech, which called for using the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations. This has been a standing position for several U.S. administrations and “the fake outrage” that the “Israel Firsters” immediately expressed following the speech only played into the hands of one party. With the world press looking on, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu chose to publicly disagree with the U.S. President as they sat in the White House together on May 20th. It is very disingenuous of Israel to speak of a two-state solution while at the same time, it builds settlements at break-neck pace and then cynically attacks the mention of corrected 1967 borders as “indefensible.”
The IPMN believes that this public disagreement with President Obama is not only bad for the peace process and the people of Israel and Palestine, but it is damaging to Israel in the long run. Over its 63-year history, Israel has been a European colonizing power in the heart of the Middle East with no attempts to fit into the neighborhood. Now that the neighborhood is undergoing seismic changes, Israel is presented with the opportunity of being a partner and shaping the future of its own region.
The IPMN calls attention to this change and holds up the fact that the desire for freedom and dignity do not stop at the borders of Israel and Palestine. The U.S. cannot support liberty and dignity for Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians and Yemenis, et al, and not for Palestinians. The occupation, repression and indignity of the people of Palestine must stop; the security of Israel and the entire region depends on it.