I just finished watching President Obama address AIPAC’s 2011 Policy Conference, and I can’t say I was comforted.
The crowd was enthusiastic, as one might expect for a sitting US President who didn’t openly pull the rug out from under Israel. Obama mouthed all the right key phrases about not delegitimizing Israel, supporting its security, never questioning its existence or right to do so, and holding the Palestinians accountable. No President will ever say anything different.
But the speech was very much the Tacoma Narrows Bridge: beautiful from a distance, but lacking all structural integrity.
Even as he was saying, “We will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their words,” everything else he said indicated that he won’t.
Obama said that the world is impatient with a peace process, or lack thereof, that produces no results, which is why the Palestinians are pursuing their statehood ambitions through the UN. In order to forestall this, the Israelis must recognize the need for progress in negotiations.
This formulation completely ignores the fact that this is part of the Palestinians strategy, the whole Menendez-brothers-but-we’re-orphans Act, allowing them to avoid responsibility for their role in the talks’ failures. It presumes that the Palestinians had any interest in coming to an agreement under the current framework, and makes Israel to blame for Palestinian intransigence.
Moreover, by listing the regions of the world (Latin America, really?) that are frustrated with the lack of an agreement, he highlights his administration’s utter incompetence in defending Israel diplomatically, which is what a large part of his speech claimed that he had done.
Obama said that the PLO-Hamas agreement posed a “huge obstacle,” and that Israel couldn’t be expected to negotiate with people who want to destroy it, therefore, he will continue to press Hamas to fulfill the basic requirements.
Israel is expected to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, without negotiating with Hamas? Or Hamas is to fundamentally transform itself from the equivalent of the Nazi Party into Social Democrats? One proposition betrays the conditions the President just set, the other ignores the reality to which he is supposedly so attached.
He focused again on his line concerning the 1967 borders, repeating “mutually agreed swaps,” and adding in that the Palestinians “must” recognize facts on the ground.
And if they don’t? The basic premise of everything is that there must be an agreement. After a speech that does little but reward Palestinian intransigence, why should the Palestinians do anything other than dig in their heels? If the Israelis open with an aggressive map, they’ll be quickly “reined in” by the rest of the world, that has no right to set terms, but every right to, well, set terms. And if they open with a reasonably map, it will be treated as a good basis for the beginning of negotiations.
He was silent on Jerusalem and the “Right of Return.”
But security and the Jewish character of Israel, two things Obama claims to want, are tied up inextricably with those two issues. For a President who opened the speech by congratulating himself he was remarkably silent on the two issues on which are the most zero-sum of all.
After months of having the Arab world ignore a President who repeatedly insists that they “must” do this and that they “must not” do that, the standing ovation he got in DC was probably dwarfed by the one he got in Ramallah and Gaza.