Thursday, May 19, 2011

President Obama's Speech On Middle East Relations

Some reports prior to the President addressing the issue today claimed that this would be some form of a reset but the speech was actually a rehash of longstanding US positions, with a few caveats. I don't think this broke new ground, although there are more than a few people claiming that the US has changed position on Palestinian-Israeli relations.

For one thing, the President admitted that the US hasn't exactly held countries like Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia to the same standards that it should have when those regimes cracked down against protesters. This part is particularly good - because he admits that his own Administration's policies towards Bahrain, Yemen, and even the Saudis has been flawed:

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

Bahrain is a long-standing 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 publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens, and 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. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
As for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the President said that there cannot be a resolution when the Palestinians deny Israel's right to exist. Yet with that in mind, how exactly can he turn around and restart the peace process when that's precisely the situation Israel faces? With Hamas involved in the Palestinian Authority, the amount of pretzel logic need to claim that the Palestinians accept a 2-state solution is mind-boggling, especially when both Hamas and Fatah refuse to accept Israel (Fatah being part of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority).

Heck, we can't even get the Palestinian Authority to adhere to their obligations under Oslo to stop inciting Palestinians to violence and otherwise de-legitimizing Israel's right to exist.

The President briefly mentioned Jerusalem in the speech, but the key was that the resolution would involve land swaps and as agreed upon by the parties.
The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

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 duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
Also, I'm curious how he intends to have a contiguous Palestinian state when Gaza and the West Bank are separated as they are now. Previous discussions have suggested building land bridges or tunnels, but none of these issues can be acted upon until the Palestinians get over the threshold issue of accepting a 2-state solution, which is something that was originally included in Oslo.

On this point, the President's speech regarding Israel and the Palestinians isn't breaking ground. It rehashes the American positions since at least the George H.W. Bush Administration (Madrid Conference). It doesn't break any new ground.

Yet, there are some media outlets that clearly get the reporting on this wrong, including the AP.
President Barack Obama is endorsing the Palestinians' demand for their future state to be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, in a move that will likely infuriate Israel. Israel says the borders of a Palestinian state have to be determined through negotiations.

In a speech outlining U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa, Obama on Thursday 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.
This is inaccurate reporting at its finest. Obama hasn't changed US position on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, and is still committed to final status talks to resolve final borders.

Where Obama clearly gets it wrong is in his statements to cajole Bashar Assad into leading a transition of how Syria is governed. Assad hasn't remained a dictator by getting out the way or transitioning his regime into something else. The Hama Rules rule for a reason in the ME (and Assad's father stayed in power using them to the hilt). Assad's only error is that he didn't use enough power to crush the opposition weeks ago.

So unless the US is going to get involved in Syria to the same extent that the US/NATO is in Libya, Assad isn't going anywhere unless the Syrian people rise up and are joined by the military in that uprising. That isn't likely to happen as the military has pretty much remained solidly behind the Assad regime. There were some reports that some units refused to fire on protesters, but they were dealt with by Assad's loyalists.

Sanctions aren't going to get Assad to change tactics.

With the growing brouhaha over Obama's speech as it relates to Israel and its borders, this is perhaps the most important part of his speech, as per the transcript:
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 is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
Everything else is moot unless the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist. That includes any talk of final status borders.

This is the strongest wording on this point and it supersedes all talk about Israel's borders. After all, if the Palestinians don't accept Israel's right to exist, talk about borders is moot.

Moreover, if Obama was truly talking about 1967 borders as the media keeps shilling, then in reality he'd be talking about the post 1948 border (aka the Green Line), but that's not the terminology he used.

There was a specific reason he used 1967 line - with agreed upon land swaps, because it is a reference back to UN SCR 242 and 338 and Oslo, all of which involve land for peace and do not require Israel to return to the pre 1967 Green Line border.

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