Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daniel Levy on Obama's Upcoming Speech

Daniel Levy posts at Foreign Policy about the resignation of George Mitchell as Obama's Israel-Palestine peace envoy (and quotes an Israeli friend whose comment was: "Mitchell was the envoy?  Who knew?").  Mitchell, a good man and former senator, must be feeling much used and abused.

But  looking to the future . . . here's Levy on Obama's (and Bibi's) upcoming speeches:

President Obama could use that speech to take to the next level the home truths he started to outline in the Cairo 2009 speech. The previous message of civil rights struggle could be taken up a notch, focusing his response to the recent Palestinian unity deal on the need for nonviolence, while acknowledging existing Palestinian non-violent protests and calling on Israel to hold true to democratic values in its response. The president might note the added urgency to achieving real progress given the changing regional environment. He might even draw on the experiences of his former envoy, Sen. Mitchell, when trying to secure a settlement freeze. In acknowledging how difficult freezing, let alone evacuating, settlements is for Israel, he might ask what the alternatives are and whether those are preferable: For instance, having settlers remain as residents in a sovereign Palestinian state on the '67 lines and what the Israelis would give in return for such an outcome (Palestinian refugees return as residents to Israel?); or would Israelis rather have one shared democratic state, thereby allowing all of the settlers to remain where they are?

Across four administrations and 20 years, there has been a developing assumption of what a two-state outcome looks like. Yet it has not been implemented and today would require the withdrawal of at least 100,000 settlers. It would be honest and timely to ask whether this assumption still has validity. Perhaps Israelis will find that old two-state option more attractive when set in such a context.

One thing President Obama might not overly concern himself with is the need to preempt Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to congress on May 24. Yes, Netanyahu will receive a rousing ovation (sadly, that would probably be the case if Netanyahu read out the phonebook, in Hebrew). But he is unlikely to offer anything of substance to change the trajectory of developments in the coming months. The members of congress in attendance might want to chew on the fact that last time Netanyahu was given the honor of addressing both chambers in 1996, there were 140,000 settlers in the West Bank alone. When this year's speech is delivered, that number will have more than doubled to over 300,000.

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