Obama’s gamble on the Middle East

After the killing of Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama could have been forgiven for taking a few victory laps and reveling in his bump in the polls. Instead, he chose to deliver a speech on the Arab Spring and closed it by touching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By all accounts, it was a gamble.

Judging by the meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that followed the speech, it was a needless and unproductive gamble. Potential Republican challengers chastized the president for delivering what they called an anti-Israel speech. Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, however, took a more reflective view, as did Israeli Defense Minister and former PM Ehud Barak, who seemed to welcome Obama’s speech and saw it as a restating of the policy parameters in use since the Clinton Administration. Regardless, the speech delivered on Sunday by Obama at AIPAC (the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the US) had all the makings of a showdown with the U.S. president.

To his credit, Obama chose to repeat what has become a controversial position regarding the legitimacy of the 1967 borders, provided they come with mutually acceptable swaps. He was, in effect, stating in clearer terms what has been the goal of U.S. and past Israeli governments since the mid-90s: a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, complete with the recognition of Israel’s right to exist and mutually secure borders. Former Bush Sr. national security advisor Stephen Hadley called it a good speech and, judging by the frequent interruptions for applause, Obama may have made some strides since Thursday’s “Winds of Change” speech.

Obama’s take on the Middle East is evidently based on Martin Luther King’s concept of “the fierce urgency of now.” The Arab Spring is not a temporary or passing fancy, nor is the growing numbers of youth in Palestine a temporary phenomenon. According to Obama, the emergence of technology as a driver of change has further bolstered the case for the U.S. to turn the page and shift the discourse in new directions.

The easy course for Obama would have been to put his re-election campaign front and center and to ignore the rapid change taking place in that part of the world. We know Obama is a hard-edged politician who is concentrated on 2012 and re-election. But a president must be able to do more than one thing at a time. In this era of sound bites and focus group-tested politics, his gamble may turn out to have been an act of courage and leadership and, by consequence, an act of statesmanship. Time will tell.

[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec's Delegate-General in New York City.]




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Obama’s gamble on the Middle East

  1. Yup, same position the US has had for years, they just never made it stick.

    The urgency now is not only because of the ‘Arab Spring’, it’s because of the upcoming recognition of Palestine as a state by the UN. 

  2. And the phenomenon continues wherein Obama is praised even before he lifts one finger. Forget about actual accomplishments. He just has to say the right things, and he’ll be adored by some. Fascinating.

    Obama’s invocation of the 1967 borders has clearly been a public relations setback. They’ve spent the last week trying to explain just what they have in mind. Israelis feel betrayed. Radical elements are inserting themselves into the Arab “democratization” movements.

    But, hey, it’s Obama. It’s all good.

  3. “The Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 or 721 B.C. The Babylonians conquered Judea or Judah around 586 B.C.  They destroyed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and exiled a large number of Jews.  About 50 years later, the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylonia. Cyrus allowed a group of Jews from Babylonia to rebuild Jerusalem and settle in it. However, a large number of Jews remained in Babylonia, forming the first Jewish Diaspora. After the reestablishment of a Jewish state or protectorate, the Babylonian exiles maintained contact with authorities there. The Persians ruled the land from about 530 to 331 B.C. Alexander the Great then conquered the Persian Empire. After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., his generals divided the empire. One of these generals, Seleucus, founded a dynasty that gained control of much of Palestine about 200 B.C. At first, the new rulers, called Seleucids, allowed the practice of Judaism. But later, one of the kings, Antiochus IV, tried to prohibit it.”

    Obama is going to resolve a thousands of years old conflict because he’s a believer in fierce energy of now? Do Jews or Palestinians have to feel same way or is Obama all that matters? 

    US is meant to be broker, referee, but they are taking sides in these discussions. Palestinians can be as miscreant as they like because they know Obama is only applying pressure on Jews.

    • Oh puleeze. You just pull things out of yer ass. 

      • He made a number of points. All you did was crap on them. And doesn’t that come out of your ass? Next.

        • Dennis Doorstop again, with more fantasies. 

    • “Obama is going to resolve a thousands of years old conflict because
      he’s a believer in fierce energy of now? Do Jews or Palestinians have to
      feel same way or is Obama all that matters?”

      Actually, Parisella said that Obama sees an opportunity “for the U.S. to turn the page and shift the discourse in new directions”, not “solve a thousands of years old conflict.”

      Better quality snark, please.

      Also: “Palestinians can be as miscreant as they like because they know Obama is only applying pressure on Jews.”

      You misspelled “Israelis”.

      • But what makes Obama and his admirers think that he can snap his fingers and resolve generations of conflict, especially since he hasn’t seemed capable of resolving much of anything so far?

        And where did he misspell “Israelis” again?

        So far you seem to be shooting blanks. 

        • “But what makes Obama and his admirers think that he can snap his fingers and resolve generations of conflict…”

          What makes you think that Obama believes that? That’s a ridiculous thing for anybody to believe, and you and TonyAdams are both rushing to accuse Obama of expecting that.

          Be specific: what leads you to believe that Obama expects easy and quick resolution to the issue of Israel and Palestine?

          “And where did he misspell “Israelis” again?”

          He spelled it “Jews”. In a world filled with brainless hatemongers throwing around accusations of antisemitism, it’s important to distinguish between the people and the state.

          • From the end of Parisella’s original blog post:

            In this era of sound bites and focus group-tested politics, his gamble
            may turn out to have been an act of courage and leadership and, by
            consequence, an act of statesmanship. Time will tell.

            Yet again, he’s already being praised for “courage and leadership” before even lifting a finger on the file. Why? He’s never done anything. He breathes and his admirers swoon. I’ve never seen anything like it.

            I suspect Americans expected and still expect more, as do the people of the Middle East and elsewhere.

          • Be specific: what leads you to believe that Obama expects easy and quick resolution to the issue of Israel and Palestine?

          • I specifically referenced his admirers, too, didn’t I? After all, it would appear that one of them wrote this blog post, and that’s what we’re responding to, isn’t it?

            As for your specific question, I think Obama has a high opinion of himself, as do the already mentioned admirers of his. He and they think he can come out with a new fancy position and do something significant despite not doing much else on the world scene other than completing Bush’s goal of killing Osama.

          • You said: “But what makes Obama and his admirers think that he can snap his fingers and…”

            Obama has hundreds of millions of admirers who believe all kinds of things. My question pertains to your accusation toward Obama himself. Be specific: what leads you to believe that Obama expects easy and quick resolution to the issue of Israel and Palestine?

            Your second paragraph dodges my question. Stop wasting my time and answer the question. Be specific: what leads you to believe that Obama expects easy and quick resolution to the issue of Israel and Palestine?

          • How many bloody times do I have to answer your question? God.

            And I seriously doubt hundreds of millions of people expect him to walk on water like some of you do. lol

          • You could start by answering the question once.

            But we both know you’re not going to, because you can’t.

          • I did in reference to his admirers, which you conveniently ignore. And then I did in reference to him, which you won’t accept. Do you worship him that much?

          • I didn’t ask your opinion of his admirers, I asked you to defend your specific accusation of him. And you agree that you cannot.

          • Why are you so desperate?

          • Wow. The comments box gets pretty small
            What a crappy design!

          • Dennis F – One of my fav Jonah Goldberg quips was that Obama’s campaign slogan should have been “People of Earth! Stop Your Bickering. I Am From Harvard, And I’m Here To Help.”  

            TJ Cook – What leads me to believe that Obama expects easy solutions is Obama told us that he was the one we were waiting for. Two groups of people fighting for thousands of years, before Alexander the Great even, and Obama thinks the world has been pining away. 

            Yes we can!

          • Swing and a miss. The actual quote:

            “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. ”

            Really, you’re capable of much better snark than this. You’re probably reading too much Jonah Goldberg, that sh*t will rot your brain.

          • You’re the only one who’s been showing any “snark” in this thread. Oh, maybe “Emily” too.

          • “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

            ” … Obama told us that he was the one we were waiting for.” 

            We/I, tomato/tomahto. Who is ‘we’?  Jews and Palestinians been fighting for long time, don’t seem to be waiting for anyone.Instead of attacking me and Dennis_F – TJ Cook – why don’t you tell us why world was waiting for Obama and his adherents? What happens next? 

          • Well your misquote makes him sound like a megalomaniac, whereas the real quote is a reference to Ghandi. He was challenging his supporters to actively contribute to change rather than  pin their hopes on him alone. Sheesh.

          • a) It wasn’t a direct quote.

            b) You think comparing himself to Ghandi doesn’t make him sound like a megalomaniac? OK.

          • He was paraphrasing Ghandi, not comparing himself to Ghandi. Are you really this stupid, do you somehow believe this bullsh*t you spout?

          • How isn’t that comparing himself to Ghandi? Then you have the gall to call others stupid. How laughable.

          • Ask your mom to ‘splain it, stupid.

          •  ’Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.’

            THAT is what Obama said

          • Quite a high opinion of himself and his worshipers, isn’t it?

          • Actually Doorstop, he was paraphrasing Ghandi. 

            “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”,

          • You can’t debate so you name-call. Thank you. Next.

          • LOL I just wiped you out, superhero. 

    • Assyrians… Babylonians… Persians… Greeks – err, to make me grams happy, Macedonians… Selucids….

      I’m curious, when did the native Palestinians get involved in your little perpetual battle there? Otherwise, that’s a whole lot of other exterior powers even before we get to the Romans – and the Papal Catholic states who’d follow warring with the Muslim ones as both sides staked their claims – which you conveniently leave out of your history.

      The reality is that this particular round of conflict is about 100 years old, has very little to do with the reasons all the other wars and occupations happened, and is very much so self inflicted and perpetuated by a certain passive aggressiveness on behalf of one party we’re supposed to ignore because the other side is responding with actual aggression driven by a fairly natural anger response. 

      The rest is just window dressing.

      • The point is that the region itself has been a source of conflict for millennia. I think it takes at least a small dose of hubris on the part of Obama and his fans to think he’ll change things based on this new and confusing strategy. That’s all.

      • “The reality is that this particular round of conflict is about 100 years old …. ”

        Arabs and Jews have been squabbling for centuries and it is not stopping any time soon. Hamas leaders seem to think they are trying to restore things to how they were a thousand of years ago – before the Crusades – but I guess you know best. 

        “Who can presume to speak for all Islamic Generations to the Day of Resurrection? This is the status [of the land] in Islamic Shari’a, and it is similar to all lands conquered by Islam by force, and made thereby Waqf lands upon their conquest, for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection. This [norm] has prevailed since the commanders of the Muslim armies completed the conquest of Syria and Iraq, and they asked the Caliph of Muslims, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, for his view of the conquered land, whether it should be partitioned between the troops or left in the possession of its population, or otherwise. Following discussions and consultations between the Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, and the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, be peace and prayer upon him, they decided that the land should remain in the hands of its owners to benefit from it and from its wealth” Hamas Charter (1988)

    • First of all, he’s not applying pressure “on Jews,” he’s applying pressure to the State of Israel. Second of all, a recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security by (among others) Hamas is a precondition of any deal. It’s called a two-way street.

      • Hamas not only does not now recognize the right for a Jewish state to exist, which is what Israel has to be to survive, it specifically calls for the destruction of such a state, and to kill all Jews they can get their hands on.

        On the other hand, Israel long ago recognized the right for a Palestinian state to exist.

        So, yes, we do need a two-way street, and I don’t seen how negotiations can ever succeed until it starts out that way.

  4. I really don’t think Obama has any clue what he’s stepping into here. He probably thinks he can squeeze a few votes by playing the moderate, but neither side of this conflict is moderate.

    • All presidents since 1967 have said the same thing. The only difference now is that the UN is about to rectify it’s 1948 mistake, and recognize Palestine. 

      • In fact, they have never said the same thing.

        As Mr. Obama reiterated Sunday, it remains the obvious – if not
        explicitly stated position by any previous president
        – that negotiating
        boundaries for a Palestinian state begins with Israel’s frontiers before
        the lightning war of June 1967

        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/americas/obama-restates-call-for-1967-lines-in-israeli-palestinian-talks/article2031288/

        In that war, Israel was attacked by Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel won and took territory from each of those countries in order to better protect itself. Until then, there was no such thing as “Palestinians”, or outcry that they were being “occupied” by Egypt and Jordan.

        I also don’t understand what you mean by the UN having to “rectify its 1948 mistake.”

        You’re more than welcome to address any of these truths. More likely, you’ll resort to your usual antics. Thank you.

        • In fact they have.  Return to the ’67 borders.

          I can even give you the transcript.

          The 1948 mistake was in creating a new country where one already existed.

          Stop walking into doors.

          • Obama wants as a starting position a return to PRE-1967 borders. Since you claim that all presidents since 1967 have said the same thing, you’re more than welcome to post quotes. By all means.

            The 1948 mistake was in creating a new country where one already existed.

            Who created a new country, and what country existed before that again?

            The British Palestinian mandate was set to end in 1948. Before that, the UN developed a plan to partition that mandate into two: one for the Jews, and the other for the Arabs that were later to be known as Palestinians.

            The Palestinians and Arabs were outraged that they didn’t get all the land. They attacked. Israel, against all odds, won. They then claimed  independence. The rest of the world eventually recognized it.

            So, instead of engaging in your usual nonsense on here, you’re more than welcome to address the facts put forth. But I’m not holding my breath.

          • One of the great ironies of this ongoing saga is this: If the Palestinians had simply accepted what was given to them in 1948, they would have more now, and without any violence, than what they’ve gotten since, or might ever get.

            Of course, there are many who believe that the Palestinian/Arab attitude has never changed since 1948. They couldn’t accept a Jewish state back then, and they can’t accept one now.

          • Dennis the Superhero….stops doors with his bare face. LOL

            Even when he has to revise history to do so.

            Sorry, not interested in playing games with you Doorstop….so you got your tights and cape in a knot for nothing.

  5. Ah yes, the hill US presidents like to die on.

    I wish him luck.

  6. The urgency for the US to respect its own policy, is that the Israeli justification for not respecting the original borders has now shifted from security to what Netanyahu calls “demographic changes.” Israel is planning to continue these “demographic changes” otherwise known as forcible eviction of Arab Palestinians and destruction of their property in occupied territory in order to replace them with so-called “settlers.”

    • Israel has demonstrated a willingness to withdraw from settlements in the past, so I doubt it justifies any new kind of new “urgency” by the U.S.

    • ” …. otherwise known as forcible eviction of Arab Palestinians ….”

      What are you talking about?

      “Israel is in fact the only country that is not an apartheid state. Most of the Arab countries of the Middle East exclude Palestinians, which is why the Palestinian refugee camps are still filled 63 years after the 1948 war. There were 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states as a result of that war, but they have all been re-settled in Israel. 

      The head of the Palestine Authority has said no Jews will be allowed to live in the Palestinian West Bank. But there are more than a million Muslim Arabs who are citizens of Israel with more rights than the Arabs of any Arab state.

       Israel is the only place in the Middle East where an Arab who is gay can live without fear, and the only place where he can march in a Gay Pride parade. There are 57 Muslim countries but not one in which gays can hold gay pride parade. 

      Calling Israel an apartheid state when the reality is as starkly opposite as this can have only one purpose: to inflame the ignorant and the fanatic and incite them to destroy the Jewish State.”   David Horowitz – Front Page Magazine – May 2011

      • I agree with everything you say, except I’m not sure why defenders of Israel, and critics of Arab states, always fall back on the gay issue. Maybe it’s because the same people who hold it so dear also tend to bash Israel?

        • “… always fall back on the gay issue.”

          Excerpt I provided was from speech, entitled “Confronting the Anti-Israel Jihad on Campus,” given by David Horowitz at UCLA on May 11, 2011. 

          I assume Horowitz was using those examples because he was talking to university students and he wanted them to see other side of argument than the anti-semites of academia like to present. 

        • “Another indication that Arab rulers coordinated the expulsion of Jews from their terrorites ….. Similar patterns of Jewish exodus existed in other Arabic-speaking countries, including Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan ……  Isam as-Sirtawi, who participated in some well-known terrorist operations but later excelled in seeking contact with the Israelis, told Ha-’Olam Ha-zé editor Uri Avneir that he gave up terrorism against Israel and instead began promoting negotiations when he realized that Israel serves as the asylum for Jews expelled from Arab countries; and that there is no going back along that path.”  

          Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries, Middle East Quarterly, 1995

  7. By the way, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post describes how Obama’s statement was in fact a major shift in U.S. policy towards Israel.

    Dana Milbank, also of the Washington Post, describes the statement as a serious Obama blunder that simply gave strength to Netanyahu and other Israeli hawks.

    It would appear as though the messiah is fallible after all, isn’t he.

  8. This is really a “Made in Likud” proposal: 1967 borders with Gerrymanderable swap options, so Likud can dicker toward what it wants by successive approximation. Whereas he is REQUIRING Palistinians  to come to  the bargaining table to get recognition. 
     
    Whatever Likud does at the bargaining table, Obama will guarantee financial and security arrangements no change, more of the same. Palistinians are REQUIRED to attend this farce which will either go exactly Likud’s way, or if they walk off and take all their security marbles home. 
     
    So, we see who Obama works for. 
    .

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