Full Text: President Barack Obama’s Arab Spring Speech — Asserting Israel Must Adopt Pre-1967 Borders

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa

Moment of Opportunity: American Diplomacy in the Middle East & North Africa
May 19, 2011 1:19 PM

Moment of Opportunity: American Diplomacy in the Middle East & North Africa

State Department, Washington, DC

12:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Please, have a seat. Thank you very much. I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles. (Laughter.) I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one 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 taking 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, by history and by faith.

Today, I want 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.

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a 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.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia. On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not. In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression. Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. And so a new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks. We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet 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. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity. We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region. But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. (Applause.)

The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy. That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence. The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats. As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: Keep power by killing as many people as it takes. Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power. Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.

So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home. Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today. That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.

Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. (Applause.) The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people. We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.

For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger. In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview. Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them. And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women. History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered. And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office. The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential. (Applause.)

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy.

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change. Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas.

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy. And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect. We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable. Politics and human rights; economic reform.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

I disagree. 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 than ever. That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.

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’s 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 one or two 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.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, 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. 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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full 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. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will 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 both Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, let me say this: Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. 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. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests. In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.” In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known. Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying loose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights.

It will not be easy. There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you.

END 1:00 P.M. EDT

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

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:

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
  • The speech that signals a Washington-Jerusalem collision: Analysis: The tone of Netanyahu’s response to the Obama speech made clear that he disliked it more than he liked it.
    US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seemed on a collision course following Obama’s speech Thursday night where the president called for a return to the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps.
    Netanyahu’s position, which he highlighted in an unexpectedly negative response to the president’s speech, is that the 1967 lines are indefensible.
    Although Obama made an effort to give some points to Israel and some to the Palestinians, in the final analysis he essentially adopted the Palestinian position that the 1967 lines – and not defensible borders – should be the baseline of any agreement.
    Obama also adopted the Palestinian position that was a point of sharp contention during the proximity, or indirect, talks last year: that the negotiations should start with borders and security. Israel’s position was that all the core issues, including Jerusalem and the refugee issue, should be discussed simultaneously so that the Palestinians, and not only Israel, will have to make concessions.
    Obama also seemed to rule out a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, as Netanyahu has demanded, saying the Palestinian state should border on Egypt, Israel and Jordan – meaning that the Palestinians, and not Israel, would control the border to the east.
    The elements of the speech that were pleasant to Netanyahu’s ears were the US president’s call for a return to negotiations; his unequivocal dismissal of the Palestinian effort to isolate Israel at the UN in September by bringing a resolution calling for recognition of a Palestinian state; his questioning of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation; and his strong words of commitment to Israel’s security.
    But the tone of Netanyahu’s response to the overall speech made clear that he disliked it more than he liked it – and all this before his five-day trip to Washington began. – JPost, 5-19-11
  • Netanyahu: ‘67 borders ‘indefensible’: Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama’s call for negotiations based on the 1967 borders by saying those borders are “indefensible” for Israel.
    Instead, the Israeli prime minister urged Obama to reaffirm commitments made by President George W. Bush regarding Israel’s borders.
    “Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “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.”
    In his Thursday policy address at the State Department, Obama had said that the borders of a “sovereign, nonmilitarized” Palestinian state “should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
    Netanyahu’s office said in response that he “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,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “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.”
    The statement also reiterated the prime minister’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” and that Israel retain a military presence along the Jordan River.
    Obama contradicted one element of that in his speech when he said he envisions a permanent Palestinian state with a border with Jordan.
    Netanyahu’s statement also said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “seeks a Palestinian state in order to continue the conflict with Israel,” citing his unity agreement with Hamas and recent statements by the Palestinian leader. – JTA, 5-19-11
  • Israeli leader reacting to Obama speech: West Bank pullout would leave Israel indefensible: In his speech, Obama endorsed the Palestinian position on the borders of their future state, saying it should be based on Israel’s lines before the 1967 Mideast war. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the fighting, and the Palestinians claim those areas for their state.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to convene a meeting with senior officials as soon as possible to decide on the next steps, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
    Abbas is determined “to give President Obama’s effort and that of the international community the chance they deserve,” Erekat said.
    The U.S., the international community and even past Israeli governments have endorsed a settlement based on the 1967 lines, but Obama was far more explicit than in the past. His position appeared to put him at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has not accepted the concept.
    Reacting to Obama’s speech, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a full withdrawal from the West Bank, saying the 1967 lines were “indefensible” and would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel. Netanyahu rejects any pullout from east Jerusalem…. – WaPo, 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
  • ZOA to AIPAC: Withdraw Obama invite: The Zionist Organization of America urged AIPAC to rescind its invitation to President Obama after he called for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the basis of 1967 lines, saying Obama is the most hostile U.S. president ever to Israel.
    “We urge AIPAC to rescind the invitation for President Obama to speak and we urge friends of Israel and enemies of Islamist terrorism to contact your Members of Congress to fight against Obama’s anti-Israel policy,” said the ZOA’s statement Thursday. ZOA President Morton Klein added, “President Obama is the most hostile president to Israel ever.”
    Obama is set to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday.
    The ZOA statement on Thursday “strongly condemned President Obama’s Mideast speech given today promoting and supporting the establishment of a Hamas/Fatah/Iran terrorist state on the Auschwitz 1967 indefensible armistice lines.”
    Obama called for negotiations to be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.Obama is the first president to explicitly call for such a basis for negotiations, although predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have alluded to it.
    Other Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, praised Obama’s speech for rejecting any unilateral attempt to declare Palestinian statehood and for criticizing Fatah for its pact with Hamas.
    Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. Netanyahu is also set to speak to AIPAC. – JTA, 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

  • Moment of Opportunity: President Obama on the Middle East & North Africa: In a major speech at the State Department, President Obama laid out his vision for a new chapter in American diplomacy as calls for reform and democracy spread across the Middle East and North Africa. He made clear that the United States will support people who call for democracy and reform and leaders who implement them, will oppose violence in cracking down on protests and efforts to limit the rights of minorities, and continue to work for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
    Fact Sheet: Economic Support for the Middle East and North Africa Fact Sheet: “A Moment of Opportunity” in the Middle East and North AfricaWH, 5-19-11
  • 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
  • Reactions to Obama’s Middle East speechLAT, 5-19-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, on Fox News: “This is a radical shift in US policy toward Israel. Frankly, the 1967 lines are not defensible. …… Israel today is 45 miles wide. You put us back to the ’67 lines, we are eight miles wide.”
  • Politico Arena: Did Obama lay out cohesive Middle East policy?Politico, 5-19-11
  • Was Obama’s speech too tough on Israel? Republican criticism mounts: Congressional appropriators voiced doubts about some aspects of Obama’s speech. But the most pointed criticism was from the GOP. ‘Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,’ Mitt Romney said…. – CS Monitor, 5-19-11
  • Tevi Troy: Three Reasons That Obama’s Speech Will Worry the Jewish Community: Laura Meckler had a piece in this morning’s Wall Street Journal about Jewish donors’ warning Obama not to push Israel too hard in his Middle East speech today. If she’s right about Jewish discomfort with Obama’s Middle East policies — and I think she is — Jewish donors and voters alike will not be comforted by Obama’s speech.
    There were three main problems with the address. The first is the way in which Obama explained the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It is notable that when Obama said, “Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks,” he put the Israeli action first. A plausible interpretation of this is that, in Obama’s view, Palestinians walked away as a result of Israel’s settlement activity, and the Palestinian walkaway is therefore justified.
    Second is that Obama did not demand an end to Palestinian misbehavior so much as predict, in a removed way, that such behavior will not serve them well:
    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.
    Compare this with Bush’s starker and more direct words on the subject in his June 24, 2002, speech:
    And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.
    When it comes to Israel, however, Obama returns to demand, rather than predictive, mode, saying that “Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
    Third, Obama placed few limits on his support for a two-state solution. He also minimized Israel’s security concerns and limited Israel’s negotiating leverage by calling for a state with 1967 borders, instead of letting the parties themselves hash out the parameters. Again, compare this with the words of Bush, who rightly made American support for a Palestinian state contingent on concrete Palestinian actions:
    If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption, and firmly reject terror, they can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine.
    All of this is not accidental. Presidential speeches are written and rewritten so that they convey specific messages.
    For these reasons, Obama has ample reason to worry about a poor reception when he speaks to a very pro-Israel audience at AIPAC this Sunday. In addition, Obama’s campaign goal of raising $1 billion becomes much harder if he loses major Jewish fundraisers. While Bush’s 2004 improvement in the polls among American Jews was relatively small — from 19 percent support in 2000 to 24 percent in 2004 — Bush also poached a number of significant fundraisers from the Democratic side because of his pro-Israel stance.
    Finally, Obama has reason to fear a poorer showing in the overall Jewish vote in 2012. More important, though, it’s not just Jewish voters Obama needs to worry about. Polls have consistently shown that Americans in general are supportive of Israel. Jews are only 2 percent of the population, but the percentage of Israel backers who will be going to the polls in 2012 will be much higher. – NRO, 5-19-11
  • Snap analysis: Obama’s Mideast speech had political message too: It may not have been a campaign speech, but President Barack Obama’s foreign policy address on Thursday sent a series of political messages that could resonate in his 2012 race to retain the White House.
    Standing in front of a row of American flags at the State Department, Obama directed his comments on U.S. policy to populations throughout the Middle East and North Africa, offering economic and political support for democratic reform.
    But the president had another target audience: voters at home.
    By spelling out U.S. positions on the war in Libya, violence in Syria, and roadblocks in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Obama addressed specific interest groups and crucial independent voters who use foreign policy as a criteria at the ballot box.
    Here is a look at the political implications of Obama’s speech:
    1) Prodding the peace process forward….
    2) Showing leadership on Libya — and Syria?…
    3) Using the optics…
    4) Making the Arab Spring relevant to America…. – Reuters, 5-19-11
  • In Obama’s Middle East Speech, a little something for everyone to hate: President Barack Obama may have impressed much of the Arab world with his 2009 Cairo speech. But today’s effort won’t be remembered nearly as fondly…. – CS Monitor, 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
  • Digesting Obama’s speech—some goes down easy, some hard: Within hours of President Obama’s Middle East policy speech, Israeli leaders and Jewish groups on the left and right were picking through his remarks on Israel, alternately praising, fretting and criticizing.
    The big news was that Obama called for negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines, with land swaps.
    “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,” he said.
    That prompted a round of fretting in Israel and among some American Jewish groups: Why did he say 1967 instead of 1949, when Israel’s armistice lines were established? Why did Obama bring up borders at all? Is there a difference between “lines” and “borders?”
    Obama also said negotiations should start by focusing on territory and security; the status of Jerusalem and the question of Palestinian refugees would come later. That prompted another round of fretting about those two issues.
    But there was also relief. Israel and Jewish groups were pleased Obama said he’s not happy about Fatah’s pact with Hamas. He talked about Israel as a Jewish state, and rejected “delegitimization.” He talked about a demilitarized Palestine.
    What was missing in all the Thursday afternoon quarterbacking was the bigger picture: Obama talked about Israeli-Palestinian peace as part of his larger speech on U.S. policy in the region because he believes consideration of the Middle East is impossible without advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    “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 than ever,” Obama said. “That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.”
    Obama believes U.S. interests in the region will be advanced through democratization and development, but that it won’t happen unless the Israelis and the Palestinians get it together.
    The rebuke to Israelis and Palestinians for failing to reach accord was implicit but unmistakable at a time when the Palestinians and Israelis appear determined to go divergent ways. Israel’s government would prefer incremental advances to an interim solution, while the Palestinians appear to be seeking unilateral statehood by September.
    The rebuke is all the sharper on the eve of a visit to Washington by Benjamin Netanyahu; the Israeli prime minister had hoped the meeting would help restore the focus to the threat of Iran.
    Netanyahu’s statement in response to Obama’s speech knocked back the president’s key demands, point by point.
    “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu said, a direct reference to Obama’s call for a “viable Palestine, a secure Israel.”
    The Israeli leader went on to make it clear that the speech did not go far enough in extending reassurances that the Obama administration would protect Israel’s interests during negotiations.
    Netanyahu wanted Obama to go as far as President George W. Bush did in 2004.
    “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 statement said.
    In his letter that year, Bush called it “unrealistic” to expect Israel to return major population centers, although he, like Obama, said the final-status negotiations should include mutually agreed land swaps. Netanyahu apparently wants to hear the same moral support for retaining some settlements that his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, extracted from Bush.
    Also of concern for Netanyahu was how Obama left out Bush’s rejection of a Palestinian “right of return.” All Obama would say was that the issues of refugees and Jerusalem were “wrenching and emotional” and should be left for later.
    Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League national director, praised the speech as a “strong outline of principles” but said Obama didn’t get what the stakes of the refugee issue are for Israel.
    “Jerusalem is emotional, yes,” he said. “Refugees is not emotional — it’s strategic.” – JTA, 5-19-11
  • Jonathan S. Tobin: Obama on Thin Ice With Jewish Voters: The White House has gotten the message that even many stalwart Jewish Democratic donors are not happy with his attitude toward Israel. Should he decide to make Israel pay for a “reset” with the Arab world, the backlash will not be inconsiderable.
    As the Journal rightly notes, most Jews are not one-issue voters. Most are liberals as well as partisan Democrats who care more about other issues, which means Obama is likely to retain a majority of Jewish votes in 2012 no matter what he does to Israel. But his advisors understand that another blow-up with Israel will hurt vital fundraising efforts. It could also cost him some Jewish votes. Even an increase in the Jewish vote going to the GOP from McCain’s paltry 22 percent to a number in the mid-30s could be important in pivotal states like Pennsylvania and Florida.
    Obama can, as he will in his speech to AIPAC on Sunday, point to the fact that the strategic alliance with Israel has not been weakened on his watch with respect to aid aimed at improving Israel’s defenses. Despite his hostility to Israel’s government and his foolish persistence in believing that more Israeli concessions will convince intransigent Palestinians to make peace, he has avoided a complete meltdown with Jerusalem though that is largely because Netanyahu has refused to take the bait and snipe back. But, if, as the Journal reports, over 40 percent of Jews would consider voting for someone other than Obama next year, the president must weigh the dubious diplomatic benefits of pressuring Israel against the certainty that such a policy will come with a not inconsiderable political price tag. – Commentary, 5-19-11
  • Obama and the Jews, 2012: You know the 2012 presidential race has started when… you start seeing stories about whether President Obama has to worry about losing Jewish votes and Jewish money.
    Check out this headline from The Wall Street Journal: “Jewish Donors Warn Obama on Israel.”
    The story is short on any examples of one-time major Obama supporters who have or are considering pulling their support.
    That said, it quotes at least one major Obama backers who have warned that campaign that it may have a problem:
    One top Democratic fund-raiser, Miami developer Michael Adler, said he urged Obama campaign manager Jim Messina to be “extremely proactive” in countering the perception in the Jewish community that Mr. Obama is too critical of Israel. He said his conversations with Mr. Messina were aimed at addressing the problems up front. “This was going around finding out what our weaknesses are so we can run the best campaign,” said Mr. Adler, who hosted a fund-raiser at his home for Mr. Obama earlier this year. …

    The WSJ also reports that top Friend of Obama Penny Pritzker has been tapped to look into the issue — though it’s unclear if this is a well-run campaign doing its homework or reflects a “Houston we have a problem” mode:
    The Obama campaign has asked Penny Pritzker, Mr. Obama’s 2008 national finance chairwoman, to talk with Jewish leaders about their concerns, Ms. Pritzker said. So far, she said, she’s met with about a half dozen people. She said the campaign is in the process of assembling a larger team for similar outreach.

    Ken Solomon, an Obama fund-raiser and CEO of the Tennis Channel, told WSJ that “any problems were minimal and that most Jewish voters were concerned about many issues, not just Israel.”
    Meanwhile, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is quoted as saying Obama could face a problem with unhappy Jewish donors sitting on their hands and their wallets:
    “It’s that people hold back, people don’t have the enthusiasm and are not rushing forward at fund-raisers to be supportive,” he said. “Much more what you’ll see is holding back now.” – JTA, 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
  • LAURA MECKLER: Jewish Donors Warn Obama on Israel: Jewish donors and fund-raisers are warning the Obama re-election campaign that the president is at risk of losing financial support because of concerns about his handling of Israel.
    The complaints began early in President Barack Obama’s term, centered on a perception that Mr. Obama has been too tough on Israel.
    Some Jewish donors say Mr. Obama has pushed Israeli leaders too hard to halt construction of housing settlements in disputed territory, a longstanding element of U.S. policy. Some also worry that Mr. Obama is putting more pressure on the Israelis than the Palestinians to enter peace negotiations, and say they are disappointed Mr. Obama has not visited Israel yet.
    One top Democratic fund-raiser, Miami developer Michael Adler, said he urged Obama campaign manager Jim Messina to be “extremely proactive” in countering the perception in the Jewish community that Mr. Obama is too critical of Israel.
    He said his conversations with Mr. Messina were aimed at addressing the problems up front. “This was going around finding out what our weaknesses are so we can run the best campaign,” said Mr. Adler, who hosted a fund-raiser at his home for Mr. Obama earlier this year…. – WSJ, 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
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