Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama's Name Lacks Desired Effect

President Obama gave his speech to a packed audience at the American University of Cairo last week and you can bet everyone had something to say about it. While the speech gave fair lip service to both Israelis and Arabs, the effect was not the same on both groups. Arabs, who are used to a certain amount of verbal abuse and misunderstanding from American leaders, were basically pleased. Israelis, who are used to unconditional support from America, were basically disappointed.

He began with a nod to Islamic history and progress and acknowledged the role Muslims have played in advancing the interests of the US. He commented on our shared global destiny, his plans for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gitmo. And then he fully and unequivocally recognized Israel and called the US-Israeli bond "unbreakable." Then he denounced extremist violence. Then he said Israelis should stop building settlements.

Here is the part of the speech concerning the Israel-Palestine issue:
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
To someone who is educated on the issue but is not either Israeli or Arab, this speech seems totally fair and balanced. But that's not what everyone heard. I give you [drum roll] a random sampling of Israeli and Arab bloggers responding to "A New Beginning."


Rantings of a Sandmonkey:
The speech was everything was expected and more. The guy achieved his goals and executed it effectively and brilliantly...My favorite parts of the speech had to be the following in order: The way he deliverd el salamu alaikom (the audience looked like it just had a collective orgasm), the Koranic shout outs, the pandering to Hijabis, the dig at Hillary (women became leaders in islamic countries, while the US is still "struggling with it"? Nice!), and the way he spoke of the Israel Palestine Issue. For me, again, it didn't say what he intends to do, but it made people happy. They were walking outside saying how , for the first time, they hear an american leader "talk with some balance on the issue".
Asharq Alawsat:
Obama's speech addressed those that we have always described as the silent majority, in other words the ordinary citizen who abhors extremism, backwardness and attrition [e.g. war of attrition fought between Egypt and Israel] where the situation is neither that of war nor peace. [Obama speech addressed] the citizen who desires an education, and wishes [only] to live with dignity.
And Saad Edin Ibrahim of Voices for a Democratic Egypt said on Riz Khan:
He was very reconciling, he was very firm, he was very fair. And I think the fact that he talked about Muslim communities, not about the Muslim world, was also well pointed.


Tikkun Olam:
He is playing right into the so-called Palestinians' hands by placing the onus on Israel, and basically not requiring anything of the Arabs-an extremely one-sided, unjust deal. I had my problems with Bush's "Road Map," but this is even worse: Obama is preaching to the entire world words which indicate that Israel, and Israel alone-is the culprit by creating obstacles to peace in the Middle East.
West Bank Mama:
What Obama said [about settlements] is not new at all. It really describes most of the world’s perception of the conflict pretty well – although it makes me angry that my living in my home is equated with terrorists killing innocent men, women, and children. Am I really as dangerous as a suicide bomber? I am a suburban mom raising three kids, and have never threatened anyone – I just live in a place that some think is “disputed”. Why are my actions compared to a terrorist who shoots rockets at civilians?
By and large, President Obama’s address yesterday in Cairo has been well received in both the so-called “Muslim world” and by other audiences. Nobody may be happier with it, though, than the Muslim Brotherhood - the global organization that seeks to impose authoritative Islam’s theo-political-legal program known as “Shariah” through stealthy means where violence ones are not practicable. Egyptian Muslim Brothers were prominent among the guests in the audience at Cairo University and Brotherhood-associated organizations in America, like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), have rapturously endorsed the speech. The Brotherhood has ample reason for its delight. Accordingly, Americans who love freedom - whether or not they recognize the threat Shariah represents to it - have abundant cause for concern about “The Speech,” and what it portends for U.S. policy and interests.
What is most interesting about this last writer's opinion is that the "Muslim World" (which is what exactly, and what's with the quotes?) differs quite a bit. The article in Asharq Alawsat I already quoted also said of the Muslim Brotherhood:
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they believe that Obama's speech contains an unjust view on the Palestinian issue. We do not know how [they can believe this] when Obama insisted upon the right to existence for a Palestinian state, as well as insisting that America will not turn its back on the suffering of the Palestinians.

It is not only the Muslim Brotherhood who is confused [with regards to Obama's speech], Hamas is as usual playing the game of presenting two faces [to the word], a moderate face, and a hawkish face. And so whilst one face compares Obama to Martin Luther King, another says that Obama's speech is unjust and contains nothing new. This is normal, and not surprising from Hamas, who is essentially unconcerned with Palestinian unity, or establishing a Palestinian state. This can be seen in the Hamas movement's order to its gunmen to treat the security agents of the Palestinian Authority as they would the soldiers of the Israeli occupation.
We can possibly extrapolate from this that Muslim and Arab leaders who are supportive of Obama are also critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Meanwhile, extremist Israeli leaders are pretty unhappy with just everything right now, especially Obama's speech in Cairo.

Ynet quotes the Yesha settlement council as saying,"Only time will tell if the US president is Barack or Hussein." The Shomron settlers' committee also said, "The State of Israel is paying the price for its leaders' defeatism. Hussein Obama opted to adopt the Arab's bogus versions over the Jewish truth."

These references to Obama's middle name is a symbol of the divide between the president and Israeli settlers- his first name, Barack, means "shining thing" or "lightning" in Hebrew. His middle name, Hussein, is Arabic for "handsome one."

I'm serious.

If there ever were a president that could get respect from both of these groups, it's him. The potential is built-in.

The Ynet article continues, "Baruch Marzel, chairman of the rightist National Jewish Front movement, said in response to the speech 'we will continue to settle the Land of Israel whether Obama likes it or not. Obama and American administration officials can make declarations, but the actions of the youths are what will determine the results on the ground.'"

Marzel has a strong following among the Orthodox and settler communities in Israel and the West Bank, but he by no means represents the majority of Israelis. Evidence of this is the fact that his own government has declared one of his groups, Kach, a terrorist organization. Marzel and his party were banned from participating in the 1992 Israeli elections under a new law that bars parties who attempt to incite racism.

The official Israeli government response to Obama's speech was positive, with Netanyahu vowing to comply with Obama's terms.

1 comment:

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