Friday, May 20, 2011

The President's speech

Charles Krauthammer goes line by line through Obama's speech on the Middle East to find how much of it came out of George W. Bush's policies, even though Obama tried to pretend that his approach was a change from Bush's approach.

It was new in the speech that was appalling. Elliot Abrams, who was a national security adviser to Bush on Middle East affairs, delineates the wishful thinking allied with self-congratulation in Obama's speech.
The first thing he did was take credit for the Arab Spring, saying he had supported it all along. This is simply not true. The by-word early in his administration was “engagement,” with a caustic rejection of the Bush “Freedom Agenda.” Bush’s tougher policies toward Iran and Syria were to be replaced by outreach, discussion, diplomacy — far more civilized. And that engagement was with the rulers, not the ruled; Obama’s was a world of states, and you engaged with the people ruling them.

This policy is what led him to react so slowly and unenthusiastically when the people of Iran rose up after the stolen elections of June 2009. It is what led to silence and delay when there were uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Even today, with 1,000 peaceful protesters murdered in the streets of Syria, Obama cannot abandon engagement with Bashar al-Assad. Instead of saying Assad must go, in this speech Obama announced yet another round of outreach: “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.” For President Obama to suggest that Assad might lead a transition to democracy is a gruesome joke to play on the people struggling for freedom in the streets of Syria.

It is traditional now for Obama to insult the Bush administration, and this time he referred at the start to how he had had to “shift our foreign policy” after a decade of war. In fact, the shift he had to perform today was from indifference to democracy in the Arab world to the Bush policy of supporting it.
The other new part of the speech was the call to return to the 1967 borders without any of the traditional American support for Israeli population growth since 1967.
President Obama also said the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” It is worth comparing how President Bush described the agreed, negotiated borders he sought for the Israelis and Palestinians in that 2004 letter: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population 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.” The Obama language is a shift away from Israel and toward the Palestinians.
As Robert Satloff of the Washington institute for Near East Policy writes, Obama's vision of how the peace process should work out is a serious shift from United States policy.
Specifically, the peace process principles he articulated constitute a major departure from long-standing U.S. policy. Not only did President Obama's statement make no mention of the democracy-based benchmarks injected into this process by President Bush in his June 2002 Rose Garden speech (which might have been appropriate, given the overall theme of his speech), he even included significant departures from the "Clinton Parameters" presented to the parties by the then president in December 2000:

* President Obama is the first sitting president to say that the final borders should be "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." (The Clinton Parameters -- which, it is important to note, President Clinton officially withdrew before he left office -- did not mention the 1967 borders, but did mention "swaps and other territorial arrangements.") The Obama formulation concretizes a move away from four decades of U.S. policy based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which has always interpreted calls for an Israeli withdrawal to a "secure and recognized" border as not synonymous with the pre-1967 boundaries The idea of land swaps, which may very well be a solution that the parties themselves choose to pursue, sounds very different when endorsed by the president of the United States. In effect, it means that the U.S. view is that resolution of the territorial aspect of the conflict can only be achieved if Israel cedes territory it held even before the 1967 war.
Obama brushes over the fact that the Palestinians have agreed to a unity government between Hamas and Fatah.
Perhaps more than anything else, the most surprising aspect of the president's peace process statement was that it moved substantially toward the Palestinian position just days after the Palestinian Authority decided to seek unity and reconciliation with Hamas. Indeed, the president seemed nonplussed that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has opted for unity with Hamas, a group the United States views as a terrorist organization. This reconciliation with Hamas "raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel," the president noted -- but evidently not questions so profound and troubling to the United States that they would impede a shift in U.S. policy that advantages the Palestinians.
But we knew that Obama's State Department was prepared to sell Israel out on Jefusalem. Bad Rachel noted this announcement of a State Department official's travel to the Middle East.
Today’s Media Note announces Mr. Steinberg’s visit to “Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.” Well golly, State Department mouthpieces, thanks for the clarifying public admission of the thing we’ve believed about you forever, but here’s a little piece of information for your incomplete files: Jerusalem is in Israel
As Michael Rubin has pointed out, Obama's speech now gives an excuse to Palestinians to walk away from negotiations.
Obama’s speech has also set back the cause of peace. With the White House casting its lot with maximalist Arab state demands over what remains essentially disputed rather than simply occupied territories, Obama has empowered the Palestinians and the more radical Arab bloc to stop negotiating and to harden their demands on other issues, such as the right of return.
So this is what we have. Obama credits himself for adopting positions that George W. Bush took, but then moves away from traditional U.S. positions in order to grant the Palestinians what they want just at the moment when they've agreed to have a terrorist organization share a role in their government. While Obama starts from a position where Israel has to give up its position on land swaps from the very beginning. What will Palestinians have to give up? Nothing except make a few rhetorical changes while Hamas runs their government. We've seen Hamas government since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. What about that fiasco has convinced Obama that the Palestinians are now ready to be parties for peaceful self-governance?