Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tensions between US Words and Actions in Obama's MidEast Policy Speech

President Barack Obama's Middle East policy speech today has been dissected before it's been digested. Such is the 24 hour news cycle. Today's guest post from FireDogLake highlights the focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially interesting because Bibi is there in the wings.

Obama stated clearly that the United States will reject the planned proposal for Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. [Here's the relevant outtake from the speech]:

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. 
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. 
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and 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. 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 potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

This is an explicit endorsement of the 1967 borders, and it does tell Israel that they basically won’t have a Jewish state if they stick to intransigence. But the rejection of the UN General Assembly vote seems to me a missed opportunity to increase that pressure. A unified Palestinian state has little negotiating power other than international acceptance. They’ve been brutalized under occupation (and Obama used that word, too) for 44 years, and basic dignity demands that they seek a solution in an international venue if one cannot come from negotiation. The intention is not solely to embarrass the opposition, but to uplift themselves.

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