Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Obama has wrought with his Middle East speech

Emanuele Ottolenghi details the very predictable consequences of Obama's speech on the Middle East.
First, the President’s closing remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ensured that everything else he said on the Middle East would largely go unnoticed. Everybody is discussing his remark about “June 4, 1967, lines,” hardly anyone is speaking about freedom across the Arab world.

Second, his departure from long-standing U.S. policy regarding final status issues and the most explicit enunciation of Obama’s repudiation of the Bush-Sharon April 2004 understandings has caused a very public disagreement with Israel—the worst possible way for the President to persuade Israel to deliver those “hard choices” the President called for in his speech.

Third, the President has yet again given Europe a free pass to chastise Israel as the only obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This morning’s statements from the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council attendees border on the usual stupidity. Carl Bildt, for example, derided the notion that the 1967 lines are indefensible by saying, in an echo of European interwar thinking, that “the only defense that is possible is peace.”

Fourth, the speech has now given the Palestinians another excuse not to return to negotiations. As former Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in response, unless and until Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu accepts the 1967 lines as a territorial basis for a Palestinian state, there shall be no negotiations. This means that the speech has boosted, not hindered, Palestinian efforts to pursue their goals unilaterally, since they can now invoke the authority of the U.S. President.
No wonder Obama would like to pull an Emily Littella on that speech.

Obama seems to be quite content in causing difficulties for our allies and friends while trying to smooth things over with our adversaries. Bret Stephens reminds us of this moment.
it isn't often that this or any other U.S. president welcomes a foreign leader by sandbagging him with an adversarial policy speech a day before the visit. Remember when the Dalai Lama visited Mr. Obama last year? As a courtesy to Beijing, the president made sure to have the Tibetan spiritual leader exit by the door where the White House trash was piled up. And that was 11 months before Hu Jintao's state visit to the U.S.

When this president wants to make a show of his exquisite diplomatic sensitivity—burgers with Medvedev, bows to Abdullah, New Year's greetings to the mullahs—he knows how. And when he wants to show his contempt, he knows how, too.
Oh, and remember that he is still regarding Syria's Assad as having a choice on leading the way to democracy. This is the same Assad who has been killing and arresting opposition figures.

Stephens also points out how Obama wants to have it both ways on his approach to Israel.
For starters, it would be nice if the president could come clean about whether his line about the 1967 line—"mutually agreed swaps" and all—was pathbreaking and controversial, or no big deal. On Sunday, Mr. Obama congratulated himself for choosing the hard road to Mideast peace as he prepares for re-election, only to offer a few minutes later that "there was nothing particularly original in my proposal."

Yet assuming Mr. Obama knows what he's talking about, he knows that's untrue: No U.S. president has explicitly endorsed the '67 lines as the basis for negotiating a final border, which is why the University of Michigan's Juan Cole, not exactly a shill for the Israel lobby, called it "a major turning point."

Mr. Obama would also know that in 2009 Hillary Clinton had described this formula as "the Palestinian goal." Now it's Mr. Obama's goal as well, even as he insists that "no peace can be imposed."

Then there was Mr. Obama's use of his favorite professorial trope: "Let me repeat what I actually said." What followed was a rehearsal of what he supposedly said on Thursday.

But Mr. Obama's problem isn't, as he supposes, that people aren't paying close enough attention to him. On the contrary, they've noticed that on Thursday Mr. Obama called for Israel to make territorial concessions to some approximation of the '67 lines before an agreement is reached on the existential issues of refugees and Jerusalem. "Moving forward now on the basis of territory and security," he said, "provides a foundation to resolve these two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians."

Mr. Obama neglected to mention these points on Sunday, hence the telling omission. But the essence of his proposal is that Israel should cede territory, put itself into a weaker position, and then hope for the best. This doesn't even amount to a land-for-peace formula.
And remember that Obama pulled this switch in American policy just after the Palestinians agreed to a unity government with Hamas. What about Palestinian actions during his presidency has given Obama any confidence in how the Palestinians approach the idea of a two-state future with Israel?