Many words have already been written about Obama’s speech, and there are points both in favour and against Obama’s stated position.
The points in favour are that Obama specifically said that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state, and that the future Palestinian state must be demilitarized. He also agreed that although the negotiations should be based on the 1967 lines, there should be land swaps where the ’67 lines are not practical or secure.
Obama also condemned Hamas and questioned how Israel should be expected to negotiate with such an entity that wishes to destroy Israel.
In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas 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 that question.
More importantly, he decried the Palestinian threat to declare an independent state in the UN in September:
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.
The points against, however, are way more numerous and much more dangerous.
Some quotes from the speech:
For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.
No mention of the fact that the Palestinians have 22 nations to choose from, and that the occupation was purely of their own making when they were about to attack in 1967.
Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks.
Excuse me?! Did the Israelis not enforce a settlement moratorium for 10 whole months? And did the Palestinians enter into talks during that time? They did not. The waited until the moratorium expired and then complained that they cannot possibly talk because the Israelis are building settlements again.
The status quo is unsustainable,
I disagree. Israel has been managing the status quo quite competently until now. It may not be an ideal situation, but to say it is unsustainable is nonsense.
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.
Ah, the old demographic bogeyman. First of all, the real numbers (as shown by Yoram Ettinger), not the propaganda ones, show that the proportion of Israelis to Palestinians west of the Jordan is growing, not shrinking. Secondly, he is right that technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. All the more reason to hold on to that low-tech defense mechanism called “land’ or “territory”. Ask any general or field officer what he thinks about holding land or giving it up to the enemy.
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.
How the 1967 lines can be secure for Israel remains a mystery – and I am pleased to say, for Netanyahu himself. More on that later.
The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
These last two words are, to me, the most outrageous in the whole speech. What does Obama mean by a contiguous state? That Gaza and the West Bank should be connected? Has he ever looked at a map of Israel? How can “Palestine” be contiguous without cutting Israel into two? And if contiguity is so important, why is it OK for Israel to not be contiguous? I have a feeling that diplomats spout these words without thinking too hard about them, just to make nice with the Arabs. However, if they did consider these words carefully, then matters are much graver for Israel.
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.
Excuse me while I choke into my cornflakes. Kol Hakavod to Obama for recognizing that Israel has the right to self-defense and must be able to stop terrorism, but how exactly does he expect Israel to do that if it has to withdraw to the 1967 borders? Rely on the Palestinians you say? Those Palestinians who just united with Hamas? That Hamas recognized by the US as a terror group?
Getting back to PM Netanyahu’s reaction to Obama’s speech, he rejected the idea of returning to the 1967 borders. Netanyahu also slammed Obama for calling for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines.
Netanyahu issued a quick, bitter response on Thursday night to Obama’s landmark Middle East speech, saying that the establishment of a Palestinian state could not come “at Israel’s expense.”
“The Palestinians, and not only the US, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people,” he said.
While thanking Obama for his commitment to peace, Netanyahu said he “expects to hear from President Obama a reconfirmation of commitments to Israel from 2004 that received wide support in both houses of Congress.” This was a reference to a letter from president George W. Bush to prime minister Ariel Sharon that did not call for a return to the 1967 lines, and that recognized that any agreement would take into account the changed realities on the ground – a line interpreted by Israel to mean a recognition that it would hold on to the large settlement blocs.
The Bush commitments, said Netanyahu, “deal with Israel not being asked to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are not defensible, and which place large population centers in Judea and Samaria outside of these borders.”
Netanyahu’s statement also said that the Bush letter made clear that Palestinian refugees would be absorbed in a future Palestinian state, something that was not explicitly mentioned in Obama’s speech.
“Without a solution to the refugee issue by settling them outside of Israel, no territorial concessions will end the conflict,” the statement read.
One of Netanyahu’s aides put it more succinctly: Obama simply doesn’t “get it” regarding the realities of the Middle East.
… that the president apparently “forgot the conditions set forth by the International Quartet, which Obama himself endorsed.”
The aide added that Obama did not meet any demand set forth by the prime minister, referring to Netanyahu’s recent speech where he declared that Israel will not give up settlement blocs and maintain a military presence along the Jordan River.
Obama also did not address in his speech the issue of Palestinian recognition of the Jewish State as a pre-condition for negotiations.
An interesting background piece from the New York Times (via the Jerusalem Post and Hebrew Ynet) reports that Netanyahu and Clinton held an angry meeting about Obama’s speech before the speech was delivered, and that Obama timed his speech deliberately to preempt Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress on Tuesday.
This does not bode well for any future working relationship between Israel and the US. Then again, under Obama, this relationship has been pretty cold from the start.
Meanwhile, Hamas totally rejected the speech of course. But the “best” news of all for Obama? With all his concessions, demands from and pressures upon Israel, and economic aid to the Arab world, the Arab world do not consider that he went far enough with Israel.