Political Highlights May 19, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on the Middle East Advocates Israel Returning to Pre-1967 Borders

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Doug Mills/The New York Times

IN FOCUS

  • Obama Backs Mideast Plan Based on 1967 Borders: Declaring that “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” President Obama said that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must embody two sovereign states based on pre-1967 borders.

THE HEADLINES….

  • As Obama Endorses ’67 Borders, Netanyahu Objects: President Obama’s endorsement on Thursday of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute based on the 1967 borders — the first time an American president has explicitly endorsed those borders as the baseline for negotiations over a Palestinian state — prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to push back and the Palestinian leadership to call an urgent meeting.
    Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement just before boarding a plane to Washington that while he appreciated Mr. Obama’s commitment to peace, he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of American commitments made to Israel in 2004 which were overwhelmingly supported by both houses of Congress.”
    Those commitments came in a letter from President George W. Bush that stated, among other things, that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” which was another way of describing the 1967 boundaries…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama Endorses 1967 Borders for Israel: Seeking to harness the seismic political change still unfolding in the Arab world, President Obama for the first time on Thursday publicly called for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would create a non-militarized Palestinian state on the basis of Israel’s borders before 1967.
    “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever,” he said.
    Although Mr. Obama said that “the core issues” dividing Israelis and Palestinians remain to be negotiated, including the searing questions of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, he spoke with striking frustration that efforts to support an agreement had so far failed. “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome,” he said.
    The outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement came in what the president called “a moment of opportunity” following six months of political upheaval that has at times left the administration scrambling to keep up. The speech was an attempt to articulate a cohesive American policy to an Arab Spring that took a dark turn as the euphoria of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt gave way to violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria, a civil war in Libya and political stalemate in Yemen…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama Speech Backlash on Call to Reinstate 1967 Mideast Borders: President Obama’s call this afternoon for Israel and Palestine to redraw boundaries based on 1967 lines has already generated backlash.
    “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” the president said in a wide-ranging, Mideast speech at the State Department.
    “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 suggestion landed with a thud in Israel, where some skeptics worry that such a border makes the country less secure. The country will object to any “indefensible” borders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
    “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence,” said Netanyahu, who is expected to arrive here in Washington Friday.
    Netanyahu’s office tweeted its clear disapproval of the president’s reference to the 1967 borders.
    “Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress,” the office wrote on Twitter. “Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.”… – ABC News, 5-19-11
  • Obama pledges new aid to Mideast nations embracing democracy: Under pressure from key allies to act more decisively on several volatile issues in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama on Thursday promised new U.S. aid to nations that embrace democracy while he also condemned attacks on demonstrators, notably in Syria.
    Saying that the future of the United States is bound to the region in a number of ways, Obama said he was focused on “how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.”
    In what was billed as a major speech meant to define U.S. interests in the region amid the wave of change known as the Arab Spring, Obama was unveiling a series of economic initiatives to encourage democracy there, including aid for Tunisia and a total of $2 billion in debt relief and loan guarantees for Egypt’s fledgling government.
    Speaking at the State Department before an audience of U.S. diplomats, administration officials and foreign envoys, Obama made his first broad attempt to place the region’s wave of popular uprisings, which have swept away autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatened several others, in the context of American interests and values. Aides said he felt it was importrant to address the armed rebellion in Libya, the uprising in Syria and the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
    The speech was aimed in part at reassuring allies alarmed by what they perceive as drift in Obama’s policy in the rapidly changing region, after weeks when Osama bin Laden’s killing and a domestic debate over the national debt took center stage…. – WaPo, 5-19-11
  • Obama Lays Out U.S. Policy on Arab World Amid Uprisings: With a backdrop of continuing anti-government protests in the Arab world and criticism from some corners over a perceived uneven U.S. response, President Obama said in a major policy speech Thursday that the U.S. would use its influence and economic power to support the region’s transitions to democracy.
    “Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States,” he said.
    The president said that for decades, the United States has pursued a set of interests, including countering terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, securing the flow of commerce and security in the region, and standing up for Israel’s security along with pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.
    And while the U.S. would continue to do these things, “we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind,” he said.
    President Obama also acknowledged that “we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by force — no matter how well-intended it may be.”… – PBS Newshour, 5-19-11
  • Barack Obama throws full US support behind Middle East uprisings: • President unveils shift in US policy towards Arab countries
    • ‘Status quo not sustainable,’ he warns region’s autocracies
    • Sets out two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
    • Tells Syria’s Assad to lead transition or ‘get out of way’
    Barack Obama has sought to realign US policy on the Middle East, promising to shift from the long-held American backing for autocratic regimes to support for pro-democracy movements – and pledging to set out the shape of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
    “The status quo is not sustainable,” Obama said in a major speech at the state department in Washington on Thursday, the first on the Middle East since he spoke in Cairo in 2009.
    In a speech dubbed Cairo 2, he threw US weight behind the protesters, saying: “We face a historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator … After decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
    He was addressing criticism that America has moved too slowly in response to the pro-democracy movements sweeping the region.
    As well as support for the newly emerging democracies in Egypt and Tunisia, he criticised long-term US allies such as Bahrain, where America has a large naval base, for its suppression of democracy movements…. – Guardian UK, 5-19-11
  • President Obama has message for Mideast regimes: We’ll give you aid, if you promote reform: President Obama proposed billions in economic aid Thursday to reward Mideast regimes that reform, delivering a much-hyped speech on U.S. policy toward a region rocked by upheaval.
    “Square by square, town by town, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights,” Obama told an audience at the U.S. State Department. “And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics, security, by history, by faith.”
    Obama embraced the sea change triggered in Tunisia and vowed to support the growing freedom movement across the Arab world.
    “We have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals,” Obama said.
    “The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they’re built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.”… – NY Daily News, 5-19-11
  • Obama Addresses ‘Extraordinary Change’ in Middle East, North Africa: ‘In Libya, we had a mandate to take action,’ says President Obama. ‘Syrian government must stop unjustified arrests of protesters.’
    U.S. President Barack Obama has welcomed the “extraordinary change” taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, but said too many countries have met the calls for change with violence.
    Mr. Obama, speaking Thursday at the State Department, said the most extreme example is Libya, where he said Moammar Gadhafi launched a war against his own people. He said thousands of people would have been killed in Libya if the United States and its partners did not act.
    He said Syria has also chosen the “path of murder and mass arrests.” Mr. Obama called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to either lead a transition to democracy or “get out the way.” He called on the Syrian government to stop shooting protestors, allow peaceful protests and stop unjust arrests.
    Mr. Obama noted that in the last six months two leaders have been replaced in the Middle East and North Africa, and he said “more may follow” as people rise up to demand their basic rights.
    He said it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and support a transition to democracy. He said that effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia…. – VOA, 5-19-11
  • Obama: Israel must act boldly: In major policy speech, President Obama says ‘Israel must act boldly to advance lasting peace,’ stresses status quo ‘unsustainable.’ Border between Israel, Palestinians to be based on 1967 lines, he says
    Israel must act boldly in order to advance a peace agreement with the Palestinians, President Barack Obama said in his highly anticipated Mideast policy speech Thursday, presenting his vision for future negotiations.
    “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” he said.
    “There are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward (on peace,)” Obama said. “I disagree… the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.”
    Obama blamed both Israel and the Palestinians for failing to meet expectations in their pursuit of peace thus far.
    “Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks,” he said.
    Turning his attention to the Jewish State, the president stressed that America’s friendship with Israel “is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.”
    Obama noted that America’s committed to Israel’s security is “unshakable,” but added that “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.”… – YNet News, 5-19-11
  • Obama: 1967 borders with swaps should serve as basis for negotiations: President Obama said the future state of Palestine should be based on the pre-1967 border with mutually agreed land swaps with Israel.
    In his address Thursday afternoon on U.S. policy in the Middle East, Obama told an audience at the State Department that the borders of a “sovereign, nonmilitarized” Palestinian state “should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
    Negotiations should focus first on territory and security, and then the difficult issues of the status of Jerusalem and what to do about the rights of Palestinian refugees can be breached, Obama said.
    “Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and secuertiy does not mean it will be easy to come back to the table,” Obama said, noting the new unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, a group foreswarn to Israel’s destruction.
    “How can one negotiate with a party that shows itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” Obama said. “Palestinians have to provide a credible answer to that question.”
    The U.S. president did not announce a specific initiative to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.
    The speech, which focused mostly on the Arab democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, marked the first time Obama formally declared that the pre-Six Day War borders should form the basis of negotiations. – JTA, 5-19-11
  • Obama: Israel-Palestine Borders Should Be on 1967 Lines: In his speech on Thursday morning regarding Middle East policy, American President Barack Obama declared that a two-state solution is imperative to the security of the middle east, and that the borders must be based on the 1967 borders of the state of Israel with agreed upon territorial exchange. This, the president claims will provide “security” for both sides.
    “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.
    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.”
    The President also stated that nothing can go forward without full Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel on the side of the Palestinians, as well as full cooperation and change of policy from Hamas. Hamas recently signed a formal accord with its opposing party Fatah, and while no leader has yet been named to head this new party, it is clear that this new marriage of Palestinian leaders is not in Israel’s best interest as Hamas has declared repeatedly that all Jews should be killed and Israel does not actually exist.
    Recently, a Hamas official stated that while Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, it will not agree to recognize Israel formally as the “future generations” must be given the opportunity to “liberate the lands.”
    Briefly addressing the upcoming declaration of a unilateral Palestinian state by the United Nations in September, President Obama reiterated American support of Israel multiple times. “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… Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.” – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-19-11
  • Obama: Israel, Palestine borders must be based on 1967 lines: Obama says status quo in Mideast and North Africa is not sustainable, stresses U.S. opposes use of violence, oppression against people of the region.
    President Barack Obama said Thursday that the U.S. endorses the Palestinians’ demand for their future state to be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.
    “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. “
    U.S. President Barack Obama urged Palestinians and Israelis to renew peace talks on Thursday, and stressed that the Palestinians’ efforts to delegitimize Israel will fail.
    “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,” Obama said. “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.”… – Haaretz, 5-19-11
  • Obama: America’s future bound to Middle East: President Barack Obama says the future of the U.S. is bound to the Middle East and North Africa by the forces of economics, security, history and fate.
    Obama opened a major speech on U.S. policy in the region by trying to tell Americans why it matters to them even though the countries “may be a great distance from our shores.”
    He made the comments at the State Department Thursday in speech meant as his first comprehensive response to revolts sweeping the Arab world. It was aimed at audiences in the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa, where the State Department was providing simultaneous translation in Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew.
    In his remarks, Mr. Obama addressed the Israel-Palestine conflict, and, in a move that will likely infuriate Israel, endorsed the Palestinians’ demand for their future state to be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war. Israel says the borders of Palestinian state have to be determined through negotiations.
    Mr. Obama sided with the Palestinians’ opening position a day ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to referring to the 1967 borders.
    Until Thursday, the U.S. position had been that the Palestinian goal of a state based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, should be reconciled with Israel’s desire for a secure Jewish state through negotiations…. – CBS News, 5-19-11
  • What Arabs want to hear (or not hear) from Obama speech: In contrast with Obama’s major speech two years ago in Cairo, today’s address on the Middle East has generated little interest in Egypt. But Libyans and Syrians have higher hopes…. – CS Monitor, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East Speech Has Many American Audiences: Thursday’s speech by President Obama on the upheaval in the Middle East is aimed at a global audience. But it will also play out in a domestic — and political — context as Mr. Obama seeks a second term in the White House.
    Since taking office, Mr. Obama has sought to strike a balance between reaching out to the Muslim world while also combating terrorism and pushing for progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The as-yet unfulfilled promise of that approach, which he described in a speech in Cairo in 2009, helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency.
    But the effort to construct a cohesive narrative for American voters about his administration’s efforts in the region has proved more difficult. The peace process has been largely halted. The move away from Bush-era terrorism policies has gone more slowly than expected. And the uprisings in the Arab world have forced case-by-case decisions that sometimes appear contradictory…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East speech — how far will he go?: We know many of the topics President Obama will discuss in this morning’s Middle East speech. The question is: How far will he go?
    For example, we suspect Obama will talk about the sanctions his government slapped yesterday on Syrian President Bashar Assad. But will he call on Assad to step aside in light of his government’s attacks on pro-democracy protesters?
    Obama is also expected to call for revived peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, despite recent clashes between the two. But how much pressure will he put on either side, especially with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coming to town for a presidential meeting on Friday?
    We know that Obama will announce plans for new economic aid to Tunisia and Egypt, countries that actually threw off authoritarian governments earlier this year; but how much money does that involve?… – USA Today, 5-19-11
  • Obama Speech to Test Extent of U.S. Influence: When President Barack Obama outlines his vision of U.S. policy in the Middle East today, his challenge will be to get people in the region to care.
    The excitement generated by Obama’s call two years ago for a “new beginning” in U.S.-Arab relations evaporated as people waited for changes that haven’t come, said Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations and others who study the region.
    As protests have swept the Arab world, toppling some leaders and challenging others, U.S. influence has been diminished by a response seen as cautious and inconsistent, Danin and other analysts said. And the U.S. has suffered some very public diplomatic setbacks in dealing with Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and the Israelis and Palestinians.
    “It’s not clear what the United States says right now matters to the people of the Middle East,” Danin said. “The people of the Arab world are more interested in seeing what the United States does, not what it has to say.”… – Bloomberg, 5-19-11
  • Focus Is on Obama as Tensions Soar Across Mideast: Few game-changing proposals are emerging to defuse tensions in the Middle East as a busy week of diplomacy unfolds with President Obama’s address to the region and his meeting with Israel’s prime minister.
    Against the backdrop of Middle East uprisings that have intensified animus toward Israel and growing momentum for global recognition of a Palestinian state, American and Israeli officials are struggling to balance national security interests against the need to adapt to a transformative movement in the Arab world.
    The White House unveiled a $2 billion multiyear economic aid package for Egypt, which officials say would largely shift existing funds. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel prepared to arrive in Washington with a package that he hoped would shift the burden of restarting the peace process to the Palestinians.
    Mr. Obama, who is set to address Americans — and, more significantly, Muslims around the world — from the State Department on Thursday morning, may yet have something surprising up his sleeve. One administration official said that there remained debate about whether Mr. Obama would formally endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state, a move that would send an oratorical signal that the United States expected Israel to make concessions…. – NYT, 5-18-11

QUOTES

President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photo: AP

President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011

  • TEXT: Obama’s Mideast Speech: Following is a text of President Obama’s prepared speech on the Middle East, delivered on Thursday in Washington, as released by the White House:
    I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark – one million frequent flyer miles. I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.
    The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square; town by town; country by country; the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith.
    Today, I would like to talk about this change – the forces that are driving it, and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security. Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader – Osama bin Laden.
    Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy – not what he could build.
    Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Clinton introduces Obama address, says US vital in Mideast: Opening US President Barak Obama’s Middle East speech on Thursday, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that the “president’s clear vision, and pure principles” show the “indispensable role [the US] must play in the Middle East.”
    Clinton said “America’s leadership is more essential than ever,” and that the “US must lead in a new and innovative way.” She thanked the State Department, where Obama was speaking, for doing work “engaging with citizens in the streets and through social networks as [Middle East citizens] move from protests to politics.”… – JPost, 5-19-11
  • Netanyahu’s Office Tweets Disapproving Response to President Obama’s Speech: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office twitter account — run by Dr. Eitan Eliram, new media director of the prime minister’s office –- sent out a rapid succession of tweets stating clear disapproval with the president’s reference to the 1967 borders:
    “Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state… cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state,” the tweets state. “That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel. Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace. Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.”… – ABC News, 5-19-11
  • Mitt Romney: Obama threw Israel ‘under the bus’ in speech: President Obama “has thrown Israel under the bus,” potential rival Mitt Romney said in a statement responding to the president’s speech on Middle East policy Thursday
    The former Massachusetts governor criticizes Obama for endorsing a call for Israel to withdraw to borders that were in place before the 1967 war in the interests of achieving peace.
    “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace,” Romney said. “He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”… – LAT, 5-19-11
  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), another candidate seeking to challenge Obama, later reacted more broadly to the policy Obama outlined for the region: “No speech can make up for the lost time and opportunity President Obama has squandered,” he said. “The current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies.”
  • President Obama’s Suicide Speech for Israel: McCotter’s Statement re President Obama’s Middle East Speech: In response to President Obama’s address on the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. Representative Thaddeus G. McCotter (MI) has issued the following statement:
    In his latest lecture to the Middle East, an ideologically purblind President Obama has again failed to acknowledge the facts on the ground, much to the detriment of American and Israeli strategic interests.
    …Such strategic celerity, though, is lacking in the Obama Administration. For, as is becoming abundantly clear, its missteps and missed opportunities stem from the President’s inconstant commitment to the strategic partnership that founds America’s Middle Eastern policies for our national security and regional peace: the American-Israeli alliance.
    Israel is a market-based, liberal democracy that protects the lives and property of its people, including its minorities.
    Israel is America’s key strategic ally in the region. Israel enhances our defense capabilities; provides us a secure foothold in the strategically important and turbulent Middle East; and has supported our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by sharing its military technology and its intelligence on hostile forces.
    Israel is under a constant and increasing threat from terrorist forces, such as Hamas and Hezbollah; instability on its borders; and the hatred of hostile nations, notably Iran and Syria, that seek our ally’s demise.
    Already, due to the Obama administration’s bungling, radical political forces in Egypt are promising to press for the abrogation of the Camp David accords with Israel, both as a matter of law and a matter of fact.
    Inexcusably, the President’s opining and overtures have caused America’s and Israel’s shared strategic interests to decline in the Arab world – as has, not ironically, America’s popularity.
    Now must end the Obama Administration’s pressure upon our ally to make dangerous strategic concessions, which the President has done since entering office. Indeed, from day one the President has misunderstood and mangled the peace process, demanding concessions on Israeli settlements that the Palestinians had never made a precondition in negotiations. In return, all the President has reaped is the Palestinian National Authority pulling out of negotiations and endeavoring to have the United Nations foist a Palestinian state upon Israel without any direct negotiations. Moreover, the President’s “policies” have done nothing to stem the Palestinian national authority allying with the terrorists of Hamas, who are pledged to Israel’s destruction.
    Today’s speech repeats the injurious canards of forcing unilateral concessions on Israel; and claiming Hamas is becoming “moderate”. This is naïve at best, and, in reality, a foolish and dangerous misreading of a terrorist group that is America’s and Israel’s enemy. Instead, The President should have made clear that, if the Palestinian Authority chooses Hamas, it has turned its back on peace and forfeited American support, aid and assistance.
    Bluntly, a continued destabilization of Israel’s security is a strategic sellout of the highest order, and a breaking of our solemn promise to our ally.
    Mideast peace will not result from arbitrarily and unilaterally imposed solutions that will, in consequence, only further destabilize the region. Peace will come when the Palestinians and the Arab nations accept Israel as a Jewish state, abandon their dreams of eradicating it; stop demonizing Israel; cease teaching their children to hate it; and, conversely, tolerate and protect the minorities in their midst. When this happens, the Israelis will have a true partner in peace, one with whom they can mutually work for liberty, prosperity and security in that long troubled land.
    Thus, to do otherwise in our strategic partnership with Israel, however unwittingly, would reveal President Obama’s failure to acknowledge President Kennedy’s sage advice: “The surest path to war is the path of weakness and disunity.”
    No, in the interests of peace and American and Israeli security, the President must acknowledge the truths underpinning our alliance; recognize those facts on the ground endangering our alliance; and, so doing, commence strengthening the foundations of the American-Israeli alliance; and the very hopes for Middle East peace. – The Hill, 5-19-11
  • Republican Jewish Committee: JC Executive Director Matt Brooks: RJC Concerned about Obama’s Call for Israel to Return to 1967 borders: Today the President called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based “on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Those borders, actually the 1949 armistice lines, are physically indefensible, as numerous military experts have plainly stated. Asking Israel to return to those borders is unacceptable and places Israel in a vulnerable and dangerous position.
    President Bush, in his 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon memorializing the position of the United States, made it clear that, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
    President Bush spoke often about Israel’s need for secure and defensible borders and recognized Israel’s legitimate claim to certain high-population Jewish areas, such as the immediate suburbs of Jerusalem, which are beyond the 1949 armistice line. In contrast, President Obama has consistently condemned even the building of housing in municipal Jerusalem itself. It is, in fact, President Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze as a pre-condition to negotiations, more than anything else, that doomed his administration’s peace-making efforts. That stand emboldened Palestinian extremists, damaged the PA’s ability to negotiate, and forced Israelis to question the sincerity of the administration’s friendship.
    With that immediate history in mind, we are concerned that when President Obama speaks of “the 1967 borders,” he means borders for Israel that are much less secure and defensible and that put Israel at risk. – RJCHQ, 5-19-11
  • B’nai B’rith International commends and critiques: B’nai B’rith International commends President Obama for clearly reiterating U.S. support for Israel. The president noted the relationship between the United States and Israel is rooted in shared history and values and he strongly asserted that the commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable, while he affirmed that Israel is a Jewish state.
    It was also encouraging that the president spoke against unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, a measure the Palestinians are planning to bring before the United Nations in September….
    B’nai B’rith is concerned that the president is prejudging the outcome of the peace process by publicly calling for pre-1967 borders as a basis for a Palestinian state, with land swaps. Discussion about this difficult issue should be reserved for direct negotiations between the parties.
    Though he noted the issue of Palestinian refugees, B’nai B’rith is disappointed that the president failed to mention the one million Jewish refugees created at the same time. The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is often overlooked. JTA, 5-19-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Politico Arena: Did Obama lay out cohesive Middle East policy?Politico, 5-19-11
  • President Obama Rewards Hamas: President Obama delivered an unprecedented rebuke of the Israeli people by an American president today. In words that were designed to reach more Muslim citizens than United States citizens, Obama called Israel’s legitimate West Bank settlements an “occupation”; and by calling for a return to the 1967 borders, he is calling for a divided Jerusalem. He continued to press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and, subsequently, with the “unity government” the PA has formed with the terrorist group, Hamas.
    It’s extremely troubling that President Obama would side with the Palestinian Authority in an effort to jump-start peace talks in the Middle East. President Obama is not the negotiator-in-chief for the Middle East and to make sweeping demands and characterizations not only hurts the peace process but also damages U.S.-Israeli relations.
    For decades, Israel has been our most important ally in the region. Sadly, with the President’s remarks, and decision to side with the Palestinian Authority, it appears he no longer believes that is the case. By endorsing the “unity government” he has rewarded Hamas – a terrorist organization that calls for the elimination of the Jews…. – Liberty Alerts, American Center for Law and Justice, 5-19-11
  • Obama speech greeted with skepticism, apathy in Mideast: President Obama’s vow that the United States will “stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights” in the Middle East was received with a mix of apathy and skepticism by people in the region who watched the speech Thursday night.
    Some said they saw little news or any discernible shift in policy from an administration that has struggled to formulate a coherent response to the wave of popular uprisings roiling the region this spring.
    “My hope was for an unqualified apology” for Obama’s perceived support of dictators, said Hossam Bahgat, a Cairo human rights activist who was among a handful of people who got up from his table to watch the speech at a popular downtown cafe. “And I thought only Obama could do that.”
    Baghat said he was expecting stronger words from a president who delivered a speech at Cairo University two years ago that left many in the Middle East feeling that the United States was backing away from its commitment to support democratic reform in the region.
    “The overwhelming sense was one of deja vu,” Bahgat said. “I kept waiting for Cairo II, but all I heard was Cairo I.”… – WaPo, 5-19-11
  • DANNY DANON: Making the Land of Israel Whole: OVER the past few months, analysts in Israel and abroad have warned that Israel will face what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed a “diplomatic tsunami.” In September, the Palestinian Authority plans to bring the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundary to the United Nations General Assembly for a vote. The Palestinians’ request will almost certainly be approved.
    While most voices in the Israeli and international news media are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to grant major concessions to the Palestinians to forestall such a move, he should in fact do the opposite: he should annex the Jewish communities of the West Bank, or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria.
    In 1995, as part of the Oslo accords, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” If the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salam Fayyad, decide to disregard this section of the accords by seeking United Nations recognition of statehood, it would mean that Israel, too, is no longer bound by its contents and is freed to take unilateral action.
    The first immediate implication would be that all of the diplomatic and security assistance that Israel provides to the Palestinians would be halted, and the transfer of tax revenues — upward of $1 billion per year — would end permanently. This alone could threaten the very existence of the Palestinian Authority.
    Second, a United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood would give Israel an opportunity to rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank (as we did the eastern half of Jerusalem). We could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction to the Jewish communities and uninhabited lands of the West Bank. This would put an end to a legal limbo that has existed for 44 years.
    In addition to its obvious ideological and symbolic significance, legalizing our hold on the West Bank would also increase the security of all Israelis by depriving terrorists of a base and creating a buffer against threats from the east. Moreover, we would be well within our rights to assert, as we did in Gaza after our disengagement in 2005, that we are no longer responsible for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who would continue to live in their own — unannexed — towns.
    These Palestinians would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population.
    While naysayers will no doubt warn us of the dire consequences and international condemnation that are sure to follow such a move by Israel, this would not be the first time that Israel has made such controversial decisions…. – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Deciphering Obama’s mideast speech: President Obama’s speech on the Middle East this morning is an attempt to put the Arab Spring into context– and also, in effect, to hit the “reset button” on U.S. policy in the region. Administration officials say they have tried to tackle each uprising in a deliberate fashion, with a response tailored to the situation in each particular country. But the administration in many ways has reaped the worst of all possible outcomes from its approach. Many reports from the region suggest that ordinary Arabs are disappointed in the U.S. response to the uprisings, and believe Obama was too slow to abandon autocrats such as Hosni Mubarak…. – WaPo, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East speech: Good but irrelevant: President Obama’s Middle East speech at the State Department today is likely to be positively received in Washington. Middle Easterners, however, will probably find it disappointing, or worse, irrelevant… – CS Monitor, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Middle East Speech Has Many American Audiences: “They need to make the case for why all of this stuff matters to Americans and give some narrative that makes sense for all the different things we are doing,” said Marc Lynch, the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University.
    Mr. Obama’s decision to launch the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden has clearly helped to define for Americans a new Obama story in the region. Thursday’s speech will give the president the opportunity to put those actions in a broader context, Mr. Lynch said.
    “Pivoting into presidential campaign season, they are going to want to have in place a robust story to tell,” said Mr. Lynch, who writes the Middle East blog for Foreign Policy magazine. “The more that they can choose a few clear themes that fit together into a clear story, the better.” – NYT, 5-19-11
  • Obama’s Arab-Israeli Options: The Arab uprisings that have swept the Middle East touched Israel directly for the first time, as an unprecedented wave of Palestinian protesters charged toward Israel’s borders from four directions on Sunday.
    With President Obama set to give a major speech on the Middle East on Thursday and with the departure of George Mitchell, the chief United States envoy to the Israelis and Palestinians, the White House is facing new challenges on both sides in dealing with the impasse in peace talks .
    In a speech on Monday, in advance of a trip to Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is willing to show more flexibility on territory, but his position is far from what any Palestinian leader will accept.
    Should the White House play a more active role in pushing both sides toward compromise? Or will more involvement simply raise expectations that cannot be met, as has occurred in the past? What should the White House strategy be?… – NYT, 5-17-11
    Yossi Klein Halevi: An Imposed Deal Will Fail
    Rime Allaf: Don’t Bother
    Aaron David Miller: Right Now, the U.S. Is Irrelevant
    Shibley Telhami: Only Washington Can Lead
    Michele Dunne: First, Obama Needs a Strategy
    Menachem Klein: We Need a Game Change
    Daniel Levy: From Illusions to Solutions
    Rashid Khalidi: An End to the Status Quo
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