I have looked in depth at President Obama's speech made yesterday in Cairo. It makes some excellent points and some questionable ones. I found myself practically cheering when reading it at times and then muttering to myself, "What the #%$?" at others. Daniel Gordis, certainly no liberal when it comes to Israel, pointed out that the speech as it concerned Israel was basically in line with the Israeli political center. Even Avigdor Lieberman praised it. Shimon Peres glowed.
I found myself overwhelmingly in agreement with its tenor and its demands of both Israelis and Palestinians. The only truly negative reactions from either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I have seen have come from the Far Settler Right on the Israeli side and from Hizballah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the Palestinian side. Obama pretty much hit the bull's-eye. You can't do much better than that for targeting the center.
My own criticisms of that portion of the speech really have nothing to do with the peace process. Some have to do with history and others with context. I won't bore you with details unless you wish to see them. I have included detailed comments below. While I and many other supporters of Israel feared this speech and feared that the President would cave in to pressure to pressure Israel, I found his speech generally very supportive of both Israel and of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. I was very pleased with his call for the Arab nations to help out.
Where I do find significant problems with the speech are in areas only tangentially to do with Israel, such as the Iranian nuclear issue, and on issues having nothing at all to do with Israel, such as women's rights in the Arab and Muslim world. I will address those in a separate email entirely. It was a very long speech!!!
On the whole, I was pleased with what it said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Detailed comments on issues from the speech having to do with Israel and the peace process follow:
The introduction to the conflict was both good and bad. I was very pleased with the President's strong statement against Holocaust denial, but found the order of the speech itself problematic in that it seemed to equate the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering. I also found it highly problematic that the President made no mention of Jewish suffering at the hands of the Arab world including their forced expulsion from many Arab nations and their oppression as second class citizens, a dhimmi population, at the hands of Muslim rulers for much of Islamic history. It was as if Jewish suffering was only at the hands of Christian Europe.
I wanted to cheer when I read, "Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered."
Then, I noticed the problems in this statement. The Palestinians are not oppressed ISRAELI citizens or even people who SHOULD BE Israeli citizens. They are people actively AT WAR with Israel and SEEKING its DESTRUCTION, not to play a positive role in strengthening its future. Say what you will, but Martin Luther King Jr. was not leading silent demonstrations to DESTROY AMERICA, he was leading them to acquire long overdue civil rights and to obtain the right for black people in America to live the AMERICAN DREAM, to live with full liberty and to obtain full prosperity as American citizens. Let us neither pretend that Apartheid South Africa is an accurate representation. Black people in South Africa were not AT WAR for the destruction of the nation. They had not expressed generations of desire to slaughter the white population or drive them into the sea. Apartheid was a system based, much like American segregation, upon racism. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not such a conflict no matter what anti-Jewish conference may equate Zionism with racism.
For Palestinians it is a war for land, for self-determination, and for some it is a holy war. For Israelis it is a war for their very survival, for the security of Jewish lives, with concern over land and for some it is a holy war. Both want LAND. NEITHER are fighting for CIVIL RIGHTS. Let's not pretend otherwise. The war would have been LONG OVER already had it been acceptable to Palestinians to obtain a state living peacefully along side a Jewish Israel in which they had self-determination and liberty with the end of occupation. The reality is that this is NOT and NEVER HAS BEEN the primary aim of the Palestinian leadership, neither that of Fatah or that of Hamas. This then takes the conflict to a distance far afield from the American Civil Rights movement or that to overthrow Apartheid.
The President then introduced a statement that could easily be stated by Benjamin Netanyahu who has already repeatedly said similar things, "Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist."
Much has been made of the President's statement about Israeli settlements. I believe rightly so. Why? Not because it was a wonderful statement, but because it says all things to all people. The Israelis can easily say, "Okay, he's reinforcing the language of previous agreements," meaning the status-quo is okay. No NEW settlements. The Israeli response is then to do nothing. The Palestinians can say, "He's condemning Israel's continuing to EXPAND its constructs on OUR SIDE of the 1967 border." In other words, the statement received applause, but frankly will have little effect other than to entrench both sides in their points of view. EVERYONE liked that statement except the Far Settler Right in Israel which wants NEW settlements. FYI that FAR Right constitutes less than 6% of the Israeli JEWISH electorate. The statement came across as supportive of PA demands, but in reality says nothing new and will have little or no impact.
The President's comments about the need to improve the quality of life for Palestinians were excellent. The question that was left wide open, however, is WHOM is to blame for their lack of prosperity now? One could and many do make the case that it should NOT be solely or even primarily be deemed the fault of Israel, but instead of Palestinian leadership that refuses and has long refused to agree to a reasonable peace that would have already dramatically improved the quality of life. One could certainly argue that continuing attacks from Gaza have FORCED Israel to crack down on Gaza worsening life there and that the terrorist threat from the West Bank has FORCED Israel's hand there as well. Allowing for freer travel through the West Bank is a minor issue. Building industrial and governmental institutions are the bigger ones. The issue of settlements is a diversion. Without the settlements there would still be no viable Palestinian Authority. Institutions need to be built.
What the President said about the Arab world's responsibility, I thought was excellent:
Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.