Friday, May 20, 2011

President Obama's Speech

Yesterday President Obama delivered a speech about the Middle East. There has been a great deal of discussion in the press about his comments regarding Israel and there most certainly will be more debate at the upcoming AIPAC conference where both Netanyahu and Obama are speaking.   I would urge people to read yesterday's speech in its entirety.  You can find the text here as transcribed on The New York Times website.  If you prefer, watch Obama's speech below on YouTube:



Promise me this.  Please don't make judgments based on other people's comments.  Read the speech yourself.  Don't follow the lead of pundits, commentators, talk show hosts, and especially TV personalities.  Make your own informed judgments!

Here are mine.  We can by and large be pleased with Obama's statements.  He re-affirmed the important relationship between the US and Israel and criticized the ongoing terror campaign against the Jewish state.  Below is the relevant text.  I have highlighted those crucial statements in bold and of course added my comments in italics.

...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. 
Thank you Mr. President.  Palestinians must affirm Israel as a Jewish state rooted in history! 

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. 
Indeed the status quo is unsustainable.  I fear that Benjamin Netanyahu is more interested in maintaining the status quo because it keeps him in power.  In order to make bold decisions he must reach across the political divide and bring in different coalition partners.  Eventually the status quo will erode the democratic character of the State of Israel.  The dream of Israel is to be both Jewish and democratic.

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. 
There are those who care little of the democratic vision of the modern State of Israel.  The land is more holy than democratic values, they believe. They act as if other people can be sacrificed for the sake of touching the land that our ancestors walked.  We must not become intoxicated with the land as holy as it is.  Netanyahu and Israel's leadership must marginalize those who do not believe in both the Jewish and democratic visions of the State of Israel.

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. 
Agreed!   Let us hope and pray!

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.
Much has been made of this statement, but in truth it is a restatement of what was proposed by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak years ago.  Yasir Arafat walked out of those talks, leading to the second intifada.  According to WikiLeaks Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas were close to reaching such a deal only years ago.  The fact of the matter is that the security fence is a de-facto border.  The only question is how much of the West Bank will Israel be able to retain and how much pre-1967 land will the Palestinians accept in return.  What has changed is that Obama is publicly declaring this proposal and making it official US policy.  A legitimate criticism is that such a proposal should not be a starting point for negotiations but an end point.  My worry is that the Palestinians will again walk away from this proposal and begin another round of violence and terror against Israelis.  If the hopes and dreams that Obama outlined prove to be false violence will most certainly follow.

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.
These issues are the most intractable.  Palestinians seem unwilling to make any concessions regarding the question of refugees.  There is no way that Israel can or should absorb Palestinians who are descended from refugees who fled (or let's be honest in some cases were forced to flee) in 1948.  That would destroy the Jewish character of the state by demographic means.  Similarly can Israel make any compromises on Jerusalem when for years Jews were denied access to their holiest of sites?  Why must sovereignty over Jerusalem be shared, or divided? 

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.
The most unfortunate of developments is the recent unity accord between Hamas and Fatah.  In the West Bank Salaam Fayyad was making so much progress in building the institutions of statehood and a thriving economy.  If he is pushed out it will be to the detriment of far more than the Palestinians.  Hamas is not only unwilling to recognize Israel, it is also pledged to Israel's destruction.  Let's get this one right Mr. President.  How can Israel negotiate with a partner who wants to destroy it? 

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....
I desperately want to believe that peace is possible.  The status quo will lead to more violence.  Unrealized hopes for change will also lead to more violence.  But we must try to change ourselves and our world.  The Palestinians deserve a state.  Israel deserves sheket  v'shalom, quiet and peace.  Let us hope that these dreams are possible, both our hopes for Israel and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. 

No comments: