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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Obama's Middle East speech May 19, 2011

I was conflicted about the speech. At first I didn't think it was so good. Everyone seemed to think that he was paving a new way by mentioning the '67 borders. Big deal! Hasn't this been around awhile? Democracy Now! brought up a speech Bush made that was nearly the same exact thing. Neither of them addressed Jerusalem. Jerusalem is as occupied as Gaza and the West Bank, yet the US doesn't want to recognize that fact. 

Obama did change US policy, but it wasn't with the '67 borders. He referred to the "Jewish state," rather than the "Israeli state." A state for Jews, not a state for all Israelis- Jew, Christian, Muslim, Arab, Polish, American, etc. If he did indeed mean to say that, then he canceled out part of his speech. He is sanctioning, protecting and encouraging discrimination based on religion.

Now, I realize it was in fact a great speech, with the exception of every place he mentioned Israel. And those places he talked about equality and oppression- because I know he was excluding Israel from these lofty goals and very conditional support for Arab nations.

 Full text at:

First, Obama discussed the "Arab Spring."  That part was ok, except he got it wrong when he spoke of Israel. 

"Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression."

This sentence may be true of the corrupt Arab leaders, but the implications of it are false. What is implied here when paired with the statement about the West being the source of all ills is that people are brainwashed and there is no reason for the antagonism toward Israel. Israel's original land theft and declaration that this is exclusively their homeland, denial of Palestinian rights and self determination, and continued violation of international law is no reason for antagonism??

In describing America's role in and after the Arab Spring:
"...standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace."

This reflects the same old view that Israel's security is paramount and Arabs still need to (for example) come to the table, try harder to to x, y or z. The only way forward is to value both peoples' security adn human rights equally. Right now, we only value Israel's.

It was good to hear this, but unfortunately, it seems it is limited to the portion of the speech devoted to Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Libya, etc:
"The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran." 
This is a good message, but as with most of the good things said of the Arab Spring and current and future Arab allies, it does not apply to Israel. 
"Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States."
They enjoy our support verbally and monetarily and militarily- unconditionally. We ask nothing of the country that owes the most. We support it as though the connection is divine and therefore not open to question. Well, you can question it, but you will be sidelined as an irrelevant heathen if you dare.

When he said this, I immediately thought, why does this not apply to Israel? Is occupation (Territories) and apartheid (in Israel) genuine and inclusive democracy??
"We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities."
Why is it ok to ostracize democratically elected Hamas, but embrace the extremist Israeli leaders, including Liberman who was part of a terrorist organization and other officials (PM on down) who were "former" Irgun and Stern Gang operatives?? Never mind that had Israel not interfered in Palestinian elections and prevented them from being able to gather (curfews, closures) and cast votes, Hamas probably wouldn't have had the support that it gained through providing relief and another option during Israeli oppression and incursions to win.
On the up side, these are two lines from two very good sections about women's rights and the right way to aid nations. I thought he hit the nail on the head.

 "History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered."
"...focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance."
The portion on trade was encouraging. We're going to help Tunisia and Egypt and get others to do the same. Will this right all the wrongs we have committed in the region? No. But I do think it is a necessary and natural step. 
The only issue that stands out, again, is Israel. In all this Western helping out of Arab economies, who is going to condemn Israel for crippling trade and economic growth in the Palestinian Territories and fix that? We have given money to Palestinians and that's all well and good, but you need to stop the bleeding and confront Israel with the hard truth already. How can we confront them when we can't bear to utter it ourselves, though? The President and Congress are securely wrapped around Israel's little finger. Individuals can sometimes find the strength to speak against Israel (and I find it hard to believe Obama is as in Israel's pocket as he appears), but as a whole our government is lacking. We can only hope someone else can step up and/or give us a push in that direction.
And now what we've all been waiting for- the word on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
  "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."
Even in his opening remarks, the danger to Israelis (the implication is Jews rather than Israelis, though - further proof that either Obama or his speechwriter doesn't know there's a difference between Jews and Israelis) is brought home and made familiar in terms of physical and psychological harm to children; while Palestinian suffering is "humiliation" and the concern is nationhood. This ignores or covers up the fact that Israel kills and imprisons children and so Palestinian parents also worry, Jewish children are also taught to hate and so Palestinian children also suffer (not to mention PTSD due to occupation and attacks), many more Palestinians than Israelis have been murdered, Israel uses disproportionate force and causes more death than necessary for security (they have a demographic problem to solve, after all), and all the other crimes against humanity.

Let's take a look at this one.
"Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks."
 This makes is seem like both sides are at fault and both are equal in guilt. Israel continues to build settlements... in violation of international law. Palestinians have walked away from talks. Really? Would you not walk away from talks, too, if the other side's security were guaranteed and your very rights were on the negotiating table (or chopping block as it were)? If you owned the whole thing and you were "generously offered" half, then smaller and smaller pieces, would you stay and entertain their version of your story or would you walk away?

Palestinians get read the riot act:
"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."
 When negotiations lead nowhere and Israel refuses to accept anything but 100% of its demands and the US is complicit, it is time to go to the UN and get things done. Declaring a Palestinian state is absolutely not denying Israel the right to exist. Obviously, the message is that the US will fight any attempt at Palestinians gaining independence by any other means than a long, drawn out process in which the terms are wholly decided upon and acceptable to the US and Israel and then taken to Palestinians to see if they will see if they will be willing to sign on. If they don't sign, the event will be marked a failure on Palestinians' part. Of course.

Compare the "riot act" to this glowing description of Israel:
"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."
He mentions after this that we have to tell friends the truth, but to tell the truth, we haven't been a great friend in that regard.

 He does say or reiterate a few things of value. Israel can't be Jewish and democratic and an Occupier. True. Peace can't be imposed. True. 

In talking about the two state solution, there are many problems and Obama created another:
"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."
He has now escalated things and declared Israel a Jewish state. See second paragraph at top.
By saying Israel is a homeland for Jews and Palestine a homeland for Palestinians he seems to be caving to the extremist Jewish demand of "transfer" (a.k.a ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians. As with the "Jewish state" wording, I'm not sure if this reflects policy or is just an oversight of a mistake.
No one seems to want to talk about the fact that Palestinians are going to need more land than the West Bank and Gaza (and E. Jerusalem) if right of return is going to be limited to a Palestinian homeland and Palestinians are going to have an equal right to go to this homeland. I guess we are throwing out the facts of international law and UN Resolutions that say that refugees can go back home after a conflict, so we don't have to talk about Palestinians having a right to go back to what is now Israel. Why throw it out? Let's tell our "friend" the truth, Mr. President!

I'm just going to start by saying, "??? !"
"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."
Demilitarized? Why should Palestinians be demilitarized even for a minute if both are expected to defend themselves? I hope this is a short duration rather than permanent demilitarization, but it doesn't really sound that way. Or it seems Israel could stretch out the time if it felt like it. Since Palestinian rights are negotiable in a way Jewish rights aren't. (Yes, I said Jewish rights since Obama is committed to a Jewish state rather than an Israel for all its citizens.)

There is an emphasis on secure Israel and "viable" and contiguous Palestine. Israel withdraws only to a demilitarized Palestine. Palestinians must be able to stop terrorism, stop weapons from getting in and stop Palestinians from getting out. "Viable" meaning capable of protecting Israel and not so much referring to "workability" and getting back what Israel took with settlements, bisecting bypass roads, and a giant concrete wall (Not meant to predetermine borders at all, btw! Wink, wink.).

Jerusalem and refugees are considered by Obama as "issues that remain." This is nuts! You absolutely can't agree on borders and THEN settle these issues. You have to settle these first. There's nothing to settle really. What does the law and UN Resolutions say? E. Jerusalem is Occupied Territory and hence goes to a Palestinian state. Palestinian refugees have the same rights to go home as any other. If Jews from all over can go to Israel, then Palestinians have more than that same right (or at least an equal one in the case of those born in the Diaspora) to back to their homeland be it theirs or their recent ancestors home.

The violence against peaceful protesters in Egypt, Syria and Libya was mentioned and protesters praised. It is interesting how none of the peaceful protest of Palestinians was mentioned at all. Only that a future Palestinians state must protect Israel from terror, Palestinian guns and Palestinian people coming across the border.

"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."
Eloquent words, but we are not telling the truth to our "friend" or ourselves. 

 Edit: Netanyahu comes to Washington:

Netanyahu chooses to make things worse with Capitol Hill speech

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