Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama Calls for New Beginning - and an End to Settlements

President Obama's much-anticipated speech in Cairo today (the full text is here) did not exactly hit the ball out of the park (if you will excuse a baseball analogy), but he certainly hit a double. The problem is, a double is simply a double unless a batter soon drives him in with another hit. And Obama needs to make sure that the hits keep on coming.

Both the NY Times and the WaPo have already provided mostly positive assessments of the speech, and deservedly so. In short, the President calls for
- a new beginning between the US and the Muslim world
- recognition that both Israel and Palestine have the right to exist. That's a haymaker thrown at Netanyahu's refusal to talk about a Palestinian state. And most significantly, Obama said "Palestine," not "Palestinian state". That's huge.
- an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Again, this is huge, although he did not explicitly call for the removal of the already existing major settlements, which (as was recently confirmed) Bush told former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon the US would not try to force Israel to relinquish.
Some things to look for in the weeks ahead:

How will Hamas respond? It will be very useful if they can maintain their recent ratcheting-down of rocket fire from Gaza.

How will the Israeli government respond, as well as the Israeli media? Obama's speech was preceded by several statements from the Netanyahu government denouncing his (and Sec of State Clinton's) refusal to accede to "natural expansion" of existing settlements. The Cairo speech has now enunciated that refusal even more starkly. The leaders of the settlement movement have already come out strongly against Obama's speech, and are demanding that Netanyahu "emulate former prime ministers Begin and Shamir and 'stand up like a proud Jew and reject Obama's fabricated history.'" But liberal Israeli politicians and commentators like Gideon Levy recognize that the settler movement has done nothing but cause Israel to lose standing in the rest of the world since 1967.

How will the US Congress respond? The settlement movement has its hooks very deeply into many congressional supporters of Israel, both Democrat and Republican, and especially those with large Christian evangelical constituencies.

So, it's a landmark speech, but the heavy lifting has yet to come.

Obama Calls for New Beginning With World's Muslims

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