Saturday, May 21, 2011

Digganalysis: What did Obama really say this week?

There is a lot of commentary, criticism, analysis, and mock outrage regarding President Obama’s speech on Thursday regarding Israel.  Politicians and pundits on the right are hammering the President saying he has sold out Israel.  Romney “…threw Israel under the bus.”, Bachmann “In a shocking display of betrayal towards our ally, President Obama is now calling on Israel to give up yet more land and return to its 1967 borders.”, Pawlenty "President Obama’s insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand.", Limbaugh “The Arab Spring is an uprising of Middle Eastern nations against Israel and they aided and abetted by President Barack Obama of the United States of America.”, Beck “(Obama) betrayed our last great ally.”, Hannity: Romney said Obama threw Israel under the bus more like under a bus full of suicide bombers.”
But what did Obama really say?  With respect to the borders:
Obama said: “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.”
In other words, he articulated what has been the United States’ position regarding the region for decades.  He is stating the 1967 borders as a starting point with negotiations from there, though there is no way, rightly so, Israel will relinquish control of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.  But is this really a radical statement from a sitting U.S. President?  Who made the following statement while visiting in Israel?
“The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.”

That would be George W. Bush in January, 2008.  So let’s be intellectually honest and admit that this week’s mock outrage from the right is because it was President Obama who made the speech. 

But never mind us.  How do Israeli citizens see the current situation with the Palestinians and how do they envision the future?
A Smith Institute poll conducted ahead of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the U.S. found that 58 percent of the public supports a "two-state solution" to the Israel-Palestinian Authority conflict, 37 percent oppose the plan and five percent claims no opinion. The study was conducted on a representative sample of 500 Israeli adults. Deeper review of the poll’s findings, however, revealed several differences in the population. Seventy percent of Israel's religious population and 53 percent of Israeli Jews under the age of 30 oppose the plan, with 73 percent of secular Jews and 63 percent of Israeli Jews over the age of 50 supporting the establishment of a PA state. 
Clearly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to any peace settlement; but what about other Israeli government officials?  How about Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak: "I don’t think that the president's speech was such a bad thing," he added. "I think it's good that the prime minister brought attention to the fact that we expect the recognition of settlement blocs and that we want the refugees to be absorbed within the Palestinian state. I don’t think that the president said it was necessary to return to the 1967 lines, but rather that we need to start the discussion based on the 1967 borders."
While everyone in the US is focusing what the President said about Israel, his tough love for the Palestinians is not playing very well within the Arab community. 
Obama said: 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.”
And you know what? Most Palestinians have had enough of the terror, rocket, and mortar attacks by Hamas.  Recent polling suggests that Palestinians are realizing that military attacks are not the right path to statehood.   According to the poll released by the JMCC on Sunday, since the Gaza war the ratio of Palestinians who opposed "military operations" against Israel rose from 38.1% in January of 2009 to 51.8% in April of 2011. Accordingly, the poll states, "the ratio of Palestinians who support military operations decreased from 53.3% in January 2009 to 37.1% in April 2011."
Obama closed with an extremely supportive position on Israel’s security and reminded everyone that unless we get the borders and security questions answered, the issues of access to Jerusalem and the Palestinian right to return for its refugees can never be addressed

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.

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.

Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
Why should the U.S. care about Israel and why would our President, and all other U.S. Presidents, feel compelled to interject themselves into this perennial and perpetual debate?  For starters, the U.S. whether we or anyone else admits it, is the world’s sole global superpower and policeman and is therefore blamed for all the bad things and never gets the credit it deserves.  The Israeli-Palestinian situation is Main Street or City Center when it comes to the Arab world and The West, it is the lightning rod of Arab fire on the street and it is the real, imagined, or perceived evidence that the U.S. wants to keep the Arab people undermined and impoverished via its support of Israel and its support of Arab dictators and monarchs.  It was only natural that the Arab Spring, a stupid name for the 2011 populace uprisings across the region, would lead to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  But why should we care?  We care because unrest in the region leads to economic instability and specifically skyrocketing oil prices.  We care because instability spawns radical elements that end up joining terrorist organizations that become threats to our troops.  Just like the invasion of Iraq led to terrorist recruitment, the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian situation also leads to terrorist recruitment.  General David Petraeus testified “Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. … Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.” 

I have read about the Middle East and written extensively about the region this year and I am as convinced as ever that two state-solution is necessary.  As I wrote on April 21st in the fourth and final chapter regarding the region:
“… and put a credible plan of Palestinian autonomy on the table.  Believe it or not, the last suggestion will be the hardest to accomplish due to the politics in Israel and the weakness of the Netanyahu coalition government.  Creating a two state solution will not solve all of the problems and there will always be self-serving politicians and demagogues who will claim the Palestinians got screwed.  But, it may be enough to unify the vast majority of Western and Arab nations against the instigators in the militant wings of the Shia and Sunni sects”
So what exactly did The President do wrong?

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